September 1999 News

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Kargil vote for peace

5 September 1999
The Indian Express
By: Muzamil Jaleel

KARGIL: To most of India, Kargil is a kind of shorthand for national pride and courage. But for the people here, weary from not months but years of Pak shelling, dislocation and hardship, election day came as a temporary relief. For the first time in months, there has been no shelling for the past five days. And people came out to vote in large numbers hoping that's the way to put the war behind. A sharp contrast to voters in Srinagar, where people have lost hope in the system.

In Kargil, however, people see elections as one way out of their daily hardship. Says Shaleen Kabra, the state district development commissioner. "The Kargil war is not an issue in Kargil but people here have been through the war, they have sacrificed and some have died. What they want is to get their lives started again."

That's tall order no doubt but it meant a high turnout, 75 percent. Yet the resentment is evident. Many voters expressed indignation that the Center had fallen silent after the Kargil victory and left them to their fate, except for the promised relief supplies of 7 kg of rice, 2 kgs of flour, and 5 litres of kerosene per family - which also has not arrived in time.

"For the rest of the country, the war ended after three months. For us it never ended," said Fatima, a college student waiting in line to vote. "It has been doing on for the last three years.

"We hope this election will change our lives. We are voting for peace that will end our years of suffering and tension," said Abdul Rehman, who had walked 10 km to exercise hid franchise.

Although today was peaceful, shelling was on many minds. "We are risking our lives to come and vote for change," said Mohammad Subban. "When the hills of Tololing and Batalik were being shelied, there was a fire of resentment all over India. But what about us, who are caught between the mortar and the pestle?"

Subban said that even while Pakistan was shelling their homes, Kargilis were being suspected of spying for Pakistan. "This is why Ladakh Scouts, the army unit that was supposed to be raised from Leh and Kargil, has a negligible number of Kargils," he said. "Tell me, how will we prove out patriotism?"

Many voters said they felt they had never been adequately represented in Parliament, in part because the major national parties have always fielded candidates from Leh district. Now that Kargil has become a household word throughout India, they said, this election is an opportunity to send an articulate and forceful representative to the Lok Sabha and press for their concerns.

Some said they planned to vote for Ghulam Hussan Khan, a retired police officer from Kargil who is the National Conference candidate. They made it clear, however, that their choice was for the man belonging to their home district, and not necessarily for the party.

"I am not voting for the NC of for Farooq Abdullah. We want to send an educated Kargil to Parliament to speak for us." said Ahmad Hussain a contractor "if the Shiv Sena fields a Kargil candidate, I would vote for him too." This attitude is deep-rooted in the regional rivalry between Buddhist Leh and Muslim Kargil segments of this Ladakh Lok Sabha constituency.

Some Kargils, though, stressed that they cared much more about being well represented that about any candidate's religion. "It's not a religious issue. It's an issue between Kargil and Leh. If any party gives a mandate to a good, honest, educated Kargil Buddhist, we will vote for him," said Haji Ghulam Ali, an agriculture assistant.


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