Rural Kashmir votes to finish NC
24 September 2002
The Asian Age
Jammu: There was a wave in rural Kashmir. Against the National Conference. People defied the militants and the boycott call of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference to come and vote for a change in government. ''We will finish the National Conference'' was the avowed intention as the people came out to cast their votes for a better present. Srinagar city withstood the wave. It closed ranks behind the Hurriyat and decided not to vote for or against the National Conference government. ''We do not believe these elections are a solution,'' was the unanimous chorus, ''We want azadi, and the right to determine our own future.'' Some did not vote because of the Hurriyat, others refused to venture out because of the threat of militancy and still others were too cynical to cast their vote. The polling booths in rural Kashmir were overflowing with voters. The polling booths in urban Srinagar were bare with the security forces guarding virtually empty ballot boxes. Young boys made use of the empty streets to play cricket while most of the people stayed indoors, fearful of being caught once again in a political crossfire. JKLF leader Yasin Malik’s two streets of support in Maisuma were deserted. The few odd people on the street were sullen and visibly resentful. There were a couple of incidents of random stone throwing. Reluctantly, a couple of people agreed to answer questions. Where is the polling booth? ''We do not really know where it is,'' they replied, ''but it is supposed to be located inside there.'' The indifference could not have been better stated. No one is voting here, they said, nobody believes in these elections. These streets have borne the brunt of state oppression in the past, and a tangible fear hung in the air. The youth were particularly reluctant to approach the car, and hung back waiting for the elders to take the lead. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq was back at home after attending the OIC meet at New York. There was no attempt by the Hurriyat cadres to enforce the boycott, the choice to vote or not was left to the conscience of the people. He was happy that Srinagar city had responded well and had decided not to vote. Only two votes were cast at the Jama Masjid, he said, and even those two persons have been identified. He said the people had demonstrated that the elections were not an answer to the problem and that India and Pakistan have to begin talking for a real solution. He agreed that the voting in parts of rural Kashmir had been brisk. But he explained the anti-National Conference sentiment as a vote is against India, against the system. He admitted that there was an anti-NC wave but insisted it was actually an anti-India wave. On occasion his interest in the electoral outcome slipped through the calm demeanour, as when he wanted to know what the feedback was from Ganderbal constituency from where Omar Abdullah is contesting. But he would recover and go back to the people-are-with-the-Hurriyat stand. The people in Budgam, for instance, said very clearly that the boycott call had had no effect. They were fired by a determination to change the government, and this sentiment was pouring out on the dusty broken roads of the district. They agreed that ultimate peace could be achieved only through talks between India and Pakistan. But they were optimistic that a change in government would make their immediate life better and more comfortable. There were many young men one met at different polling stations in the course of the day who believed that a change in government would bring peace with the People’s Democratic Party run by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed emerging as a hot favourite in several constituencies in the second phase of polling. Mr Sayeed was optimistic that the elections would establish his party as a major regional party in Kashmir. He was also optimistic that his candidate would defeat Omar Abdullah in the key contest in this phase. He was extremely happy with the Election Commission, saying it has done a great job. ''I have no complaints,'' he said. In his assessment the National Conference was crumbling and a defeat in this election would hasten the process. The PDP leader is making it very clear that he expects the government of India to initiate talks not just with the elected representatives but with the Hurriyat and the separatists. We do not want the Hurriyat to be marginalised, he said. His daughter Mehbooba has been accused of keeping a direct line with the militants open but the Mufti explains this by pointing out that she visits their homes to support and rehabilitate the families. The support for the separatists has not gone unnoticed with the Mirwaiz pointing out later to The Asian Age that the PDP is also supportive of the Hurriyat.