SRINAGAR: The elections have been won and oaths have been sworn, but those who contested municipal polls as candidates of political parties are still living in fear and anxiety. In contrast to them, a breed of young Kashmiri men and women, who contested the elections as Independents, are fearless.
The new-generation candidates, who are nearly 35 in number, stay at their homes without guards and move about freely. They are not worried about the death threat issued by militant commander Riyaz Naikoo. They believe they are not the ones who have sold Kashmir.
One of the braves is Aqib Renzu Shah, former secretary of the PDP’s youth wing. His party boycotted the municipal elections, but Aqib did not. He stood as an Independent against Junaid Mattu, who also quit the National Conference to contest the polls, and won.
Aqib said that since the day he filed his nomination papers, he has been visiting households and holding open conversations with voters.
“I don’t have any fear because I contested the polls for Kashmir and not for anybody else. I don’t believe Kashmir is part of India. I also believe that the dispute over it can be resolved by holding a referendum,” said Aqib. “So, why should I fear?”
Aqib, who is still studying for a Bachelor’s degree from a private university through distance mode, has his residence in Braine on the city outskirts. He contested from the same area. No one so far, he said, has either issued a threat against him or put out posters against him. His competitor, Mattu, who is tipped to be the next Mayor after winning from three of the four wards he contested from, lives in a guarded house in Baghat.
Aqib said that he contested from only one ward because he was sure he would win.
Aqib’s friend from Nowhatta, the epicentre of protests in Srinagar, also contested the elections without fear. She contested from Lokut Dal, while her friend contested from Nowhatta. They both helped each other, she said.
“Death and birth are in the hands of Allah, so I don’t care much about it. And why should I fear? I am not wicked unlike the bigwigs of Congress and BJP. I work for Kashmir,” she said.
She said she contested the elections against the wishes of her mother, which is why she does not wish her name to appear in newspapers. She is a practising lawyer, lives in a joint family that has a history of supporting the resistance struggle. She believes that the municipal elections have nothing to do with the larger Kashmir issue because they are meant for doing local civic work of cleanness, drains and streets. She, too, believes that Kashmir is a dispute.
Without any guards, she has been going around her ward, meeting locals, and jotting down their issues ever since she decided to contest the elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has won more than 60 seats uncontested in different rural areas of Kashmir, has still not disclosed the names of its winning candidates. BJP’s Kashmir in-charge Tariq Khan told Kashmir Reader that he has not allowed any of the candidates to talk to the media.
“Their lives are more important than anything else, so their identity has to be kept hidden,” said Tariq, a former militant who turned into a pro-India politician. Tariq trained as a militant across the Line of Control for eight months. He fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan but gave up militancy in 1992. He joined the National Conference, and then the BJP in 2005. Today, he says that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
The Congress, too, which fielded more than 400 candidates in the municipal polls, has kept all its contestants at a government-declared safe zone. Its state president, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, told Kashmir Reader that the party’s candidates did not campaign during the election. “They managed to get votes through friends and communicated with voters on phone,” he said.
An Independent candidate, Ashraf Bhat, a businessman in his early 30s, contested the election despite threats issued against him by the Hizbul Mujahideen. Bhat, who contested from two wards, said that the militant outfit pasted posters on the gate of his residence asking him to quit from the elections. Though he lives in a guarded room in a hotel, he visited Rathopora, where he won the polls, alone without guards. His wife won uncontested from another ward.
“The government has provided me with two armed escorts, but I visited my ward without them because I feel more secure alone than with them,” he said.
“Allah has the power of death and life. He has chosen a time for it which cannot be changed. I went with this faith when I went to campaign,” he said.
After the oath-taking ceremony was held today for the winners of the election, many of them are still putting up at government-secured locations. They do not go home.
“I am here with my family at a hotel. The threat is still there and I don’t know for how long I will stay here,” Ashraf Bhat said.