Srinagar: The high-voltage battle that Varanasi will witness in upcoming general elections will feature a small duel that may go unnoticed. For, among Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s challengers this time will be a Kashmiri activist who will be fighting his first national election.
This challenger is Sajad Noorabadi, a 30-year-old political activist and resident of Kulgam district in south Kashmir, which continues to remain tense and has witnessed a surge in local militancy in last few years.
Noorabadi had earlier filed nomination for the Anantnag bypoll against then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. The by-election, however, was cancelled given the low voter turnout in the Srinagar bypolls and the violent clashes leading to the death of eight civilians.
“By fighting elections against Modi I want to send a message that he has made the life of Kashmiris and Muslims in India terrible,” says Noorabadi.
The activist has launched a small political party, Tehreek-i-Insaaf, along with few other activists, it is yet to be registered. These days, he is busy contacting different parties and asking them for a ticket to fight polls from Varanasi.
“I am in talks with some national and regional parties and hope they will give me a ticket to fight the polls, otherwise I will fight as an Independent candidate,” he says.
Noorabadi, a Humanities graduate, says he has been working as an activist for more than decade now. Much of this period has been spent working with different separatist parties.
Interestingly, during 2014 general elections, Noorabadi was arrested for allegedly running the anti-election campaign.
“I was in police custody for around 15 days for running a campaign calling for poll boycott,” he said.
But why and how did Noorabadi go from running a poll boycott campaign to contest one now? Despite the obvious U-turn, Noorabadi insists his ideology has not changed.
“I still believe that Kashmir is a dispute which needs to be solved immediately through talks and dialogue,” he says, adding that in separatist camp, his voice was not heard.
“The voice of separatists is being muzzled. There are restrictions and curbs, you can’t talk about any issue there,” he tells News18.
Noorabadi believes that after entering electoral politics and “becoming part of the system”, he will be able to raise his voice and advocate for “talks on Kashmir”.
Though he has set his sights on Varanasi, Noorabadi has been to the city only once, that too a decade ago as a student. “I had gone for a tour to few cities with my friends and happened to stay in Varanasi for a couple of days,” he says.
He is, however, optimistic that he will get support from Varanasi voters. “I am sure there are people who will understand my message. I speak only the truth.”
Referring to attacks on Kashmiris across India following the Pulwama terror attack, the political aspirant says, “It is the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who are to be blamed.”
“I will tell people that we Kashmiris are not aliens and they should not treat us as terrorists,” he says.