Political parties campaign in hiding, away from an angry electorate that has only contempt for this election
Pulwama: Political parties in the fray for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat are campaigning in a very subdued and cautious manner in Pulwama and Shopian districts, where polling is to be held on May 6, amid indifference shown by locals and the fear of militants hanging thick in the air.
The twin districts in south Kashmir have been at the forefront of the renewed militancy in the valley since more than 3 years now. While the people of the area remain mostly indifferent to the upcoming elections, there have been repeated threats by militants warning people against voting.
On Monday night, unknown people torched a designated polling station in Keegam area of Shopian district, making the threat more substantial.
Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the first to start the election campaign here, taking out a rally in Pulwama town on April 24, a day after dismal polling in Anantnag district.
Mufti and her party workers took out their protest rally against the “highway ban” on civilian traffic and against the detention of JKLF chief Yasin Malik, in the main town. A few hundred workers of the party, holding placards, treaded about 200 meters from the town hall to the Deputy Commissioner’s office before they dispersed.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, a senior worker of the party acknowledged that the campaign for the polls is proving to be an extremely difficult one.
“Public rallies for now seem to be a farfetched idea. We have to take at least half a dozen residents into confidence even before visiting a village for political campaigning, such is the fear,” the party worker said, on condition of anonymity.
He said that the protest rally taken out by Mufti was a huge thing to do in Pulwama.
But that has been pretty much all of it. Since then, there have only been workers’ meetings in highly secured zones, like the circuit house in Shopian, and party offices in Pulwama.
“Omar Abdullah came here on Tuesday and Ghulam Ahmad Mir of Congress today. They addressed workers in the confines of the circuit house,” a local source from Shopian district told Kashmir Reader. “The gatherings have been dismal, to say the least,” he added.
He said that apart from the two meetings in the circuit house, there has been no other political activity in the district thus far.
The same has been the case in Pulwama. Omar Abdullah on Wednesday addressed a gathering of workers in the lawns of Mujahid Manzil (the party office) in main town Pulwama. Most of the chairs at the venue were empty and Omar sounded like he was dragging his speech throughout. He did appeal to workers to come out and show their resentment against the previous Mehbooba Mufti government through voting, not by boycotting the elections.
Outside of these secured zones, there is no election-like mood anywhere in the two districts. People are going on with their daily chores and there are no hoardings, buntings or anything to suggest that the districts are going to the polls in less than a week’s time.
Locals whom Kashmir Reader talked to expressed indifference, and some fear, when asked about the upcoming polls.
“We will not vote. Anyone in a sane state of mind here in Pulwama will not. What has been happening here is not a secret. We have seen the worst kind of atrocities in the last few years and I believe voting will not change that,” a shopkeeper in main town Pulwama said.
Most of the other people who talked to Kashmir Reader reiterated what the shopkeeper had said. However, there were a few who said that they were afraid to go out and vote.
“I do not want my family to be looked down upon by our neighbours. There is a threat, yes, but there is also a social stigma attached to voting here in Shopian district. I will not risk my family and myself,” a teacher from Imam Sahib area of Shopian district said.
Whatever unfolds on the polling day in these districts can only be known on the day itself. However, political analysts feel that the poll percentage will be even below what it was in Anantnag and Kulgam districts.
“It was 14 per cent in Anantnag and about 10 percent in Kulgam. If you think that is dismal, wait for the figures in Shopian and Pulwama districts,” a political analyst from Anantnag said.
The authorities are also apprehensive of violence on the day of polling, but maintain that security arrangements in place are unprecedented and foolproof.
“We sure are apprehensive, but we are leaving nothing to chance. Let’s hope for the best,” a senior police officer in south Kashmir said.