Bread-butter replace bullet-blood as issues this Kashmir poll
28 August 2002
The Indian Express
Hari Watnoo, Gulmarg: Unlike 1996, the year the people here hope that their votes may bring them solace from the abuse of the uniformed men and atrocity of militants along with jobs, better roads, hospitals and electricity. This may spell tough times for the ruling National Conference. This was evident when hundreds of villagers gathered here — the constituency of Industries Minister Mustafa Kamal and Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s younger brother — to cheer and applaud the People’s Democratic Party leader and Opposition candidate Ghulam Hassan Mir, today. This constituency has always seen a close contest between Mir and Kamal — who won the 1996 polls by a margin of 1,700 votes. However, what has angered the villagers here is the fact that even after six years of voting in the NC government, the area still lacks basic amenities. ‘‘Our needs are very basic,’’ said a 65-year-old villager, Ghulam Mohammad Dar. Another villager, Ghulam Qadir, said, ‘‘Unlike other areas, the people here thought we were privileged since our MLA is Farooq Abdullah’s brother. We, too, thought things will change, but six years on, nothing has changed’’. Mir, who arrived here amid a procession, too stressed on the common man’s problems. He also alleged that NC’s motive here was to ensure poll boycott. ‘‘Even yesterday, STF men had asked the people to stay indoors after 8 pm. This is part of a campaign to scare voters. They don’t want the people to vote because they know they will lose,’’ he said. This wave of anger here is part of the widespread sentiment in north Kashmir where the people have distanced the issue of upcoming polls from the bigger issue of separatism. Militant-infested Kupwara too is witnessing hectic political activity and the way the situation is unfolding, there are no doubts that poll participation will be high this time. When asked what he expected from these elections, Ghulam Hassan Gulshan, who was part of the procession, said: ‘‘We have a choice — we can either boycott the polls letting NC rule for another six years or we can vote in a government which is sympathetic toward our woes. I am personally for an independent Kashmir,” he said. People, however, still hope for a resolution of the Kashmir issue. ‘‘NC is the only hurdle in any peace effort made in Kashmir. All other parties here have dialogue with the Hurriyat and militants as part of their political agenda and if they are elected, they will certainly mount pressure for negotiations,’’ said PDP sympathiser, Nazir Ahmad Dar.