This is an election rally with a difference. Unlike other campaigners, these leaders are not asking for votes; they are asking the people to stay away. It is the anit-election campaign of the separatist conglomerate - All Parties Hurriyat Conference - in Kashmir.
The 33-year old chief of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Yasin Malik, starts his day at 6 am. His whereabouts and the venue of his rally are kept a closely-guarded secrete to keep the Government in the dark. An Ambassador car stops at a JKLF activist's residence and Malik comes out through the front door, ready to move. Others have already left for the destination, taking another route.
The cars are stopped at a security force check post but nobody recognises the frail Malik or his hefty companion Javid Mir, another JKLF leader. The cars finally reach the spot of the rally. It is the north Kashmir town of Bandipore. Nobody there seems to have any inkling that the separatist leaders are to speak.
The leaders head for Jamia Masjid, the main mosque of the town, the day being Friday. By the time they are offering prayers, the news of their arrival spreads like wildfire among the villagers who have come from the adjoining areas to offer the Friday namaaz. The prayers over, a makeshift stage is erected and the leaders begin their speeches.
"The elections are a farce. After sacrificing thousands of lives, nobody can participate in this sellout. We do not want to be a part of India and we should show that by boycotting the polls," says Yasin. He asks those present "to resist all pressures and keep themselves away from this futile exercise".
Referring to the National Conference government, Malik says, "For us these elections make no difference as we don't accept them. And participating in these elections means legitimising the killings, rapes and arson." He rattles of figures of `atrocities' during Farooq Abdullah's reign, saying "we want nothing less than freedom."
This is the cue for a group of policemen to emerge from corner and start a lathi-charge. Within minutes the people start dispersing, shouting slogans.
This is the routine for the APHC leaders nowadays. During the peak days of campaigning in Srinagar constituency, most of the APHC leadership was kept in police custody to avoid any disruption in poll canvassing by mainstream political outfits. But after the September 5 polling , they were set free.
The police now try to keep a check on their movements. The state government is also dealing with the APHC's anit-election campaign cautiously, especially after Election Commissioner G V G Krishnamurty's comments during a press conference that even canvassing for poll boycott is a democratic right.
The separatist leadership seems to be forcing more on the newly-floated People's Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, which is seeking mandate on issues like human rights abuses allegedly committed by the security forces, unconditional dialogue with militants and most importantly, the demand for resolution of the Kashmir "dispute" - issues that resemble to a greater extent the main planks of the APHC.
"Freedom struggle and power politics cannot go together," Malik responds when asked to comment on reports that the separatist conglomerate had tacit understanding with Muftis and are was extending behind-the-veil support to them.
Accusing the Muftis of wearing a pro-Kashmiri mask to get votes, the APHC leaders try to "expose" them in every rally, sensing a real threat to the politics of the conglomerate. "They (the separatist leaders) known that the people are already alienated from the National Conference for its misrule. Now they are focusing on Mufti's PDP so that it does not emerge as an alternative to the NC," believes a senior lecturer in the Political Science department of Kashmir University.
Whatever may be the reason, the APHC leaders seem to be campaigning as vigorously as those seeking votes.
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This Archives is Maintained by Md. Sadiq, 1998