April 2004 News

Braving The Bullets

22 April 2004
The Daily Excelsior

Jammu: Serious incidents of violence that have marked the polling in the Baramulla Parliamentary constituency in particular on Tuesday were not entirely unexpected with the militants having already announced their plans to defeat the election process. No wonder they targetted about a dozen polling booths and triggered landmine blasts to discourage the ordinary voters from exercising their franchise. It is unfortunate that a few innocent persons lost their lives including one journalist-turned-human rights activist in these explosions. There is no doubt that but for these incidents the turnout would have been much higher than that recorded in Baramulla and Jammu Lok Sabha seats where the polling was held in the State in the first round. The militants have been hell-bent upon wrecking peace in Baramulla right from the start of the election campaign. Only the other day they had converted the border town of Uri in this constituency into a gory theatre of murder and mayhem by killing 11 persons and injuring more than 60, including two ministers Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Ghulam Hassan Mir. If one takes an overview one will find that the security forces have succeeded in restricting the scope of mischief by the terrorists. There was intense and bitter campaign by the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party in this region. Both have fielded popular candidates: NC's Abdur Rashid Shaheen has represented the seat in the dissolved Lok Sabha while the PDP has adopted journalist-politician Nizamuddin Bhat in a bid to extend its reach to this important northern belt of the Valley. This is the only seat the Congress has contested out of the total three in the Valley, its nominee being veteran leader Ghulam Rasool Kar. Evidently the decision of the People's Conference not to take part in the electioneering has also taken a toll of the polling percentage. The party had participated in the 2002 Assembly polls by proxy and its lone winner G.M. Sofi is currently its 'proxy' representative in the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Cabinet. It had made a public declaration not to back Mr Bhat who was closely associated with the party in the eighties. Apparently severe heat has affected the voter participation in the Jammu constituency of which the thickly-populated Jammu city is a key constituent. One will have to wait for the details to come to the conclusion whether the electoral apathy is also a contributory factor in this behalf. Unlike Baramulla that mostly has an arduous mountainous terrain the Jammu constituency has several well-located towns where people can easily access polling booths. All three main candidates - Dr Nirmal Singh (Bharatiya Janata Party), Mr Madan Lal Sharma (Congress) and Mr Surjit Singh Salathia (NC) - are the well-known faces in the Jammu region. The NC had wrested the seat from the BJP in a by- election not very long ago but it had ignored the last time's winner to field Mr Salathia. Their participation and the electoral response - although of varying degrees - have a message for the practitioners of the gun: they may eliminate a person but can't snuff out his desire for peaceful and democratic existence.

 

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