Srinagar: The lingering shadow of last year’s uprising and the continuing rush of people to rescue besieged militants is not the only reason for low-key campaigning for parliamentary by-polls, especially in Srinagar. The political parties are just not ready.
This is illustrated by the fact that no major public rally or roadshow has been held so far even as elections are barely a week away. Take for instance the Eidgah constituency’s Noor Bagh neighbourhood, where almost all the major political parties held public conventions during 2014 assembly polls. This year, not one rally has been held.
The slack electioneering is being attributed to lack of preparedness and the “sudden” poll announcement by Election Commission of India on March 10. Polls are scheduled on April 9 and 12, which has given the political parties a month for campaigning, but it is being called “too little”.
NC provincial secretary Showkat Ahmad Mir says that rallies need preparations that require more than a month’s time.
Mir, who is chief election agent of the NC’s Srinagar nominee Farooq Abdullah, said that for public rallies, a political party has to first hold Halqa-level, block-level, and district-level meetings. In other words, public rallies require preparation at the grassroots level, which is missing because of the “sudden” poll announcement.
Currently, closed-door election meetings are being held in the interiors of old Srinagar city where political workers and supporters meet in a hush-hush manner. “Once such meetings are over, only then a public rally in which star campaigners or senior leaders address people will be held,” said Mir.
Both the PDP and NC have planned to hold public rallies this week in Srinagar but the venues have not been declared yet because of security reasons.
NC chief spokesperson Junaid Mattu admitted that a month for campaigning was insufficient. “It is a snap poll. It is something we are not satisfied with, and there is lot of alienation as the situation is not normal,” he told Kashmir Reader at the party headquarters.
PDP leader and in charge of Srinagar parliamentary constituency, Imran Raza Ansari, called the by-polls as “unwarranted” as people were in no mood for elections.
He said the polls were being held on short notice and the parties are resorting to “cautious campaigning”. He said that his party is holding election meetings in a confidential manner to avoid any trouble. “A lot of elements and agencies are working against the elections. We are holding meetings covertly,” Ansari told Kashmir Reader.
Even amid this underground or covert electioneering, party workers are not afraid of casting their votes.
In a Nawa Kadal neighbourhood, about a dozen workers of a political party were discussing campaign strategy. “We have always voted to pick our numayinda (candidate). But we lack time for organising rallies, which is giving the impression that we fear the threats issued against us,” said a middle-aged worker on condition of anonymity.
A PDP activist in Khanyar assembly constituency, who attributed the slack campaigning to “unexpected announcement of the poll dates”, asked, “Do you see any police guards protecting me?” He said the problem is that political parties have not got ample time for canvassing, which is why polls lack enthusiasm.
The apprehension of party workers being attacked appears to be exaggerated. Internally, people who might have foiled such meetings have an understanding with the political workers in several parts of the city. Take for instance Khanyar, Habba Kadal and Safa Kadal, where several youth whom this reporter met who had been jailed for stone-throwing or protests, said they tacitly support the pro-India politicians. “We don’t vote. But we won’t spoil their show, too. We have to maintain liaison with them. They help in securing our release or if we get calls from police,” said a group of youths who had served detentions even under the Public Safety Act.
Mainstream political parties have also forged a new alliance with the electorate through social media. Both the PDP and NC have adopted Whatsapp groups to reach out to people, especially to youth. “We are connected with thousands of youth,” NC’s Junaid said.