GANDERBAL: The threat of killing issued by the Pakistan-based United Jihad Council -- an alliance of 17 militant outfits -- against anybody participating in the current electoral exercise in Jammu & Kashmir has worked, at least in the Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah's assembly segment of Ganderbal. As the ruling party sought to organise its concluding rally of the month-long campaigning at the CM's home-pitch, militants did everything from pasting anti-election posters to laying land mines and launching a rocket attack. Consequently, the main township wore a deserted look and few people dared to venture out, let alone participating in the rally.
In stark contrast to the hero's welcome, Farooq Abdullah had been accorded here during the campaigning of September, 1996, Assembly elections, less than six hundred people participated in today's public meeting at a park on the right bank of the Sindh nullah. Last time also few men of the main town had participated, but conspicuous was the enthusiasm of the harvesting farmers. Truckoads of the members of Gujjar community drawn from Kangan and Ganderbal localities, changing slogans in favour of their spiritual leader Mian Bashir Ahmed and Farooq Abdullah, were absent today even as Mian's son Altaf-Minister of Social Welfare -- was present.
Farooq's right-hand men like the former Chief Secretary Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, former general secretary of J&K Youth National Conference Sheikh Ghulam Ahmed Saloora, as also the CM's representative and Minister for Higher Education Abdul Qayoom were all on the dais.
"My constituency has become the casualty of leg-pulling", the NC chief exclaimed with grief. Publicly, he referred to the in-fighting between his local leaders and lamented that false allegations of corruption were being levelled against one another in order to occupy senior positions in the party.
But there was more behind the dismal show than what met the naked eye. On the condition of anonymity, three Government employees disclosed that the prominent Hizbul Mujahideen commander Hameed Gadda had made movement through a nearby locality in the company of 15 foreigners while proclaiming death for anybody who participated in the rally or cast a vote. Three land mines had been planted by militants on the main road near Barsoo. BSF Sector Headquarters at Zakoora witnessed a fierce rocket attack which continued for one hour beyond midnight. Posters had also been pasted, warning against participation in the electoral exercise.
The Chief Minister sought people's continued support in stamping out residual militancy in Jammu and Kashmir saying the alien gun culture has brought many miseries to the people of the State.
The Chief Minister said the people have voted for peace in the last three elections and given a massive mandate to National Conference to steer out the State from the difficult phase of militancy. He said peace is essential for progress and development.
Criticising the parties like Hurriyat Conference for exploiting the people for their vested interests. The Chief Minister said that they got funds in the name of Islam from abroad and utilized that on their comforts. They even usurped the donations collected for the reconstruction of Chrar-e-Sharief, he said adding that the shrine of Alamdar-e-Kashmir is now being constructed at a cost of Rs 10 crores. So far Rs 1.27 crore have been spent on it, he added.
Without naming Mufti Mohd Sayeed, he said that former Home Minister thrusted Jagmohan as the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir in 1990 and failed to protect Mirwaiz Maulana Farooq. He said that the leaders of Peoples Democratic Front were misleading people by their lies and fabricated stories. He said they even exploited the sentiments of people of Jammu on MBBS select list and were now pretending to be the well wishers of Kashmiri people.
Dr Abdullah said that National Conference is committed to grant of regional autonomy to the people of Jammu and Kashmir envisaging equal opportunities of progress and prosperity to Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu. He said appropriate steps in this direction would be taken soon. He reiterated the commitment of his Government that no region will get preference over the other.
Giving the fiscal status of the State, the Chief Minister said that despite difficulties the Government is endeavoring to ensure all round development of the State. He gave resume of various works completed in Ganderbal constituency and said that his endeavor is to provide equal opportunities of progress to all the areas.
He said National Conference represents the urges and aspirations of the people of the State and the party alone can safeguard Kashmiriyat. He said every region of the State has a distinct identity and it is incumbent upon us to preserve these.
An incensed Abdullah targeted both of his rivals on the dais. He described the J&K PDP chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as the father of the 1987-model Muslim United Front (MUF) and proceeded only to level a very serious allegation: That Mufti and his PDP were the real producers and directors of the campaign of harassment against the NC workers. "They have been drafting and pasting all these posters and threatening letters on behalf of Hizbul Mujahideen and other outfits. They have the consensus on NC's defeat." Nevertheless, he expressed his optimism that the electorate would come out on the day of polling and return the NC candidates with thumping margins from all the six seats in Jammu & Kashmir.
As for the militants, he was all the more militant. "You people shall have to be prepared for certain inconveniences. The security forces have returned (from Kargil and Yatra) and I'm going to give them free hand to crush these people (militants) decisively," he grumbled, saying that the unending era of insurgency shall have to be silenced with an iron hand. He reminded how militants had ruined the Rs 100 crore Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences Soura completely in 1990-96 period and, later on, how the NC Government had put everything back on the rails.
"The Army is back now. If I didn't have their (militants') houses blasted, don't call me Farooq Abdullah," he threatened in his desperate attempt to infuse a sense of security among the much-terrorised audiences.
On this occasion, NC's youthful candidate Umar Abdullah declared that he would spend much of his constituency development fund on Ganderbal and make it a model constituency not only in Jammu & Kashmir but also in the country. He toed his father's line that on one hand Kashmir was the target of Pakistan's subversion and on the other side, New Delhi was least sensitive towards this State. In his speech, Dr Abdullah blamed the Center for having adopted double standards in case of the militancy-hit Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
He said in case of Punjab, the Center had written off Rs 8500 crore liabilities but in case of J&K there was insignificant support and financial assistance. He resolved that the NC Government would rest with nothing short of greater autonomy.
Earlier in the day, there was the neutraliser of a colourful boat rally over the Dal as high-spirited NC workers yelled loudly and boldly in favour of their candidate.
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