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Gupkar Candidates Allege Foul Play, Seek Freedom from 'Safe Haven' Ahead of DDC Polls

Former J&K CMs Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

Former J&K CMs Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah.

Bharatiya Janata Party rivals- National Conference and People's Democratic Party have targeted the government for restraining their candidates from campaigning under the guise of security.

Mufti Islah

With three days to go for polling, campaigning for the upcoming District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the non-BJP candidates are alleging foul play and misuse of official machinery by the Bharatiya Janata Party candidates.

Party’s rivals- National Conference and People's Democratic Party have targeted the government for restraining their candidates from campaigning under the guise of security. "The administration's lop-sided approach towards BJP candidates is a big stain on democracy. I have never seen such desperation," a senior politician told News 18 while citing an example of how candidates other than from BJP were confined in a school building in Pulwama and were allowed to campaign for polls from here.

The Central High School in the middle of Pulwama town has housed more than 20 people in fray for DDC and Panchayat elections since last one week. "The moment my wife filed her nomination form as DDC candidate, we were whisked away by police from our home and dropped here," said Ghulam Mohammad Wani, husband of Mehmooda Akthar. She is contesting for Gupkar Alliance from Shadimarg, her home turf- one of the 14 seats up for grabs in militancy-torn Pulwama district.

Wani said, over the past week his wife is not permitted to campaign freely and go to places of her choice. "At the most, she is given an hour to canvass. This has been her routine," he added, further alleging that the BJP candidates are given a free run.

The candidates not only complained of restricted movement but they also alleged that they were kept in untidy and cold rooms. "There is water shortage, no proper bedding and heating facilities. It seems we are refugees in our own district," said Ghulam Nabi Wani, who is contesting Panchayat elections from Pulwama.

Meanwhile, the media men have been barred to meet or film these candidates, while the local officials have denied commenting on the situation.

The development came a day after J&K Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma said there is no disparity in campaigning and adequate security was lined up for everyone to go out and canvass. "Those claiming they are not allowed to go for campaigning should write to me and at the same time to SSPs and Deputy Commissioners of the concerned districts,” he said. Every candidate will get security cover for campaigning and that includes those who are in cluster security, he added.

As many as 165 companies have been spared to conduct free and fair polls, he further stated.

Earlier, former state’s chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti had hit out at the government for preventing candidates backed by the Gupkar Alliance to campaign on the pretext of providing security and locking them up in 'safe' enclosures.

Omar's father Dr Farooq Abdullah also wrote a letter to J&K Election Commission K K Sharma seeking to end the 'bias'.

This first election after the abrogation of Article 370 and the DDC polls have assumed a huge significance given the rival political parties are pitching it as a kind of a referendum for or against the August 5, 2019 move.

While the BJP has sent its second rung leadership to campaign in Kashmir, their opponents and regional star campaigners like the Abdullahs, Mehbooba Mufti, and Sajjad Lone are strangely holding back and not hitting the ground to galvanise support for their candidates.

However, fed up with separation from their families as these candidates are held in Pulwama school, a few sarpanches have also withdrawn their candidature. Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, an independent candidate, said he and his two colleagues withdrew their nominations, and even now we not free to go home."

While several complained of being ‘captive’, nearly 20 miles away from the Pulwama school, News 18 caught up with Zakir Ahmad Kallas, a consensus candidate for the Gupkar Alliance. A man from the Gujjar tribe, resident of Kellar, Kallas is holding a door to door campaign in one rickety village that is barely a mile away from the main Kellar market. Sitting in a corner of a semi-lit room at one of his worker's homes, he asked people to come out in large numbers to vote for the restoration of Article 370.

"We have been robbed of our constitutional rights, power, position, and now they want to snatch our land. If we don't understand this deceit now, when will we? How can we not stand up against this broad day theft,'' he tells a motley gathering of a few dozen villagers who respond with slogans, ''Zakir bhai aage badou hum tumare saath hain.''. (Lead us brother Zakir, we will support you).

Kallas was accompanied by Shabir Kullay, a senior leader from Shopian and a former assembly candidate for NC. ''Though the size of the DDC segment is small, these polls are massive. It is a referendum against the Centre's decision to scrap two special articles that gave exclusive rights to the people of Kashmir. We have to win,'' he added. Both Kallas and Killay were followed by a few NC and PDP supporters and not a single police officer was seen in their campaign trail.

In comparison, just two miles down the road from Kellar, in a village named Vechoor, there was Javeed Ahmad Qadri- a BJP candidate for the district. In his late 30s, Qadri, a stocky man, was talking to a dozen villagers in a large room while his personal security sat opposite him, holding an AK 47 by his side.

Inside the house, Qadri said, "I got a college, KV (Kendriya Vidyalaya) for Kellar. There are no power disruptions now. From a four-hour power supply a day to 18 hours now, we have come a long way. No youngster is harassed by the army, police now. I hope to bring more development to the villages. Do vote for the work I do. Even if you don't I won't complain.”

'Article 370 was a shell already when it was taken down and those raking up the issue now are only indulging in politics, he added referring to the leaders of the Gupkar Alliance.

Before getting into his car, a huge security detail lined behind his car, ''I am a protected person and in the Y plus security category. The BJP leaders have been targeted repeatedly and we can't work without protection,'' he quipped before hitting the road.

Reportedly, nine of 12 political workers killed in militant attacks in the last one year were affiliated to BJP. As a result, many leaders who have been facing threats were provided security after local BJP leaders took up the issue with the central leadership.

In all 280 DDC seats, 140 each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions are up for grabs. The first of the eight phases polls would begin on Saturday and culminate in December. Simultaneously polls for 13,000 vacant Panchayat positions would also be held.

A massive security apparatus has been laid out to ensure militants are kept at bay even though some candidates fighting Panchayat polls want it to be eased a bit.

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