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Once Abuzz With Poll Fervour, Anantnag Streets Wear Deserted Look Post Election Announcement

By: Aakash Hassan

Edited By: Angana Chakrabarti


Last Updated: March 13, 2019, 15:02 IST

Once Abuzz With Poll Fervour, Anantnag Streets Wear Deserted Look Post Election Announcement

During election time, the neighbourhood would turn festive and footfall would drastically increase. All this changed in summer of 2016 with the killing of 21-years-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

Anantnag: The day after the announcement of the Lok Sabha polls, the government colony in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district wore a deserted look. The high-security vicinity in Khanabal, which houses key politicians, was not teeming with workers of different political parties as it would be a few years back.

Earlier, groups of workers could be spotted walking in and out of meetings. Workers who were regular visitors to the colony would be let in easily while the others had to undergo checks.

During election time, the neighbourhood would turn festive and the footfall would drastically increase. Compound walls donned colourful posters, flags and party banners. Then come result day, crackers were burst and sweets would be distributed among the neighbours and party workers, who were all part of the mainstream politics in restive south Kashmir.

This all changed in summer of 2016 with the killing of 21-years-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander - Burhan Wani.

Wani was killed on July 8 in Bamdoora village in Anantnag’s Kokernag area following which clashes erupted on the streets of Kashmir. Hundreds of people, mainly teenagers and young, were killed in the clashes between the local residents and security forces. Kashmir remained shut for over four months at that time.

After this, hardly any political worker visited the government colony for months. Even some of the leaders living there left for Srinagar and Jammu, on the account of the deteriorating situation.

The next year, around the May 2017 by-polls for the Anantnag parliamentary seat the colony witnessed several closed-door meetings and covert campaigning before the Election Commission (EC) decided to cancel the elections after Srinagar by polls saw massive violence and a measly 7% voter turnout rate.

A new gate was installed in the colony, higher than the last one, and this time around it was opened and visitors were allowed to enter only after thorough checks. The compound wall of a few of the houses inside was also elevated and on some walls, coils of concertina wires were spread over.

The neighbourhood is symbolic of the changing situation in Kashmir, particularly in the south. In one of the houses lives Peer Hussain, who is believed to be the Lok Sabha candidate of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) from the Anantnag seat.

The 75-years-old, who has witnessed the ups and downs of Kashmir politics, believes the situation has worsened in the valley and that the voter turnout in the upcoming elections will be even less.

“There is usually lesser voter turnout in the parliamentary polls and the prevailing situation will add to that,” said Hussain who joined NC in December.

Hussain was one of the founding members of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and was once considered as a close confidant of former Chief Minister, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Hussain was also a PDP MLA in 2002 and in 2015 he was appointed as the vice chairman of the Waqf Board in the state.

In 2017, Hussain resigned from the post and later quit the party. For him, the National Conference is the party which can bring peace to Kashmir.

He believes that the PDP and the parties which have come up in recent years are “big conspiracies of some agencies to divide Kashmiris.”

“I will campaign on this. We are being divided and that is why these parties are coming up,” he said adding, “We are living in a peculiar situation. People have to unite to defeat these forces which have fragmented us".

It’s been two days since the Election Commission announced the dates for the Lok Sabha polls in the state, but hardly any meetings have taken place between Hussain and party workers.

Jailed in 1970 for two and a half years, Hussain was charged for “conspiring with Pakistan to dislodge India”. The case, Hussain said, was later dismissed.

In 2009, he contested from the Anantnag parliamentary seat but lost by four thousand votes to the then-NC candidate Dr Mirza Mehboob Beg, who ironically joined the PDP later.

South Kashmir was considered to be the bastion of PDP and senior leaders like Hussain quitting and even running against the party will prove as a challenge.

Two gates away from Hussain lives PDP senior leader Abdul Rahmaan Veeri, who was a cabinet member in the previous PDP-BJP government. Veeri is also of the belief that voter turnout this time around will be low.

“Had the Election Commission held simultaneous polls, the results would have been contrasting. The Lok Sabha polls don’t attract people,” he said adding that “the hostile situation on the ground” is also likely to affect people’s participation.

PDP is yet to decide on its candidate but it is likely that the party will field Veeri.

This is the first time that the Election Commission is going to hold parliamentary polls in Anantnag in three phases.

According to Veeri, although the situation is tense it isn’t as bad as is being portrayed.

After July 2016, no party has been able to hold major rallies in south Kashmir and a number of political workers had also fled their houses after being threatened by militants.

Veeri says PDP will ask for votes on issues around peace, dialogue, reconciliation and development in the state.

Regarding how the party will justify their alliance with BJP and the crisis the Kashmir was plunged in during their rule, Veeri said that the “people will understand the situation we were in.”

“We will explain to people what happened they will understand,” he said.

The PDP leader couldn’t, however, confirm if the party’s mandate will remain the same as the last time when they joined hands with the BJP. But Veeri is clear that the PDP will not apologise for any seeming mistake made by their coalition government.

“We didn’t do anything wrong. Because of us the BJP couldn’t fulfil their agenda. We don’t need to apologise to the people,” he said.

During the 2014 elections, Mehbooba Mufti and her party had campaigned extensively asking the people to vote so that BJP could be stopped from entering into Kashmir.

Following this, the PDP and BJP formed the government in the state, the latter coming to power for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. The state has been under President's Rule since last year after the alliance fell apart.

In the streets of south Kashmir, people seem desolate ahead of the elections. “These are parliamentary polls. It will hardly matter for us who wins and who loses,” Abdul Khaliq a shopkeeper in Khanabal, Anantnag.

But some, however, believe that the situation could worsen before the polls.

“People from Jama’at-e-Islami and other religious groups have been arrested. There will be more suppression by the state,” said Irshad Ahmad Milk, a college student from Pulwama.

“This is a tactic to create legitimacy for these parties. This is what these parties will sell in the elections,” he said.

However, others believe the elected government should be in place as most of the developmental works are not happening. People believe that with the influence of political leaders it becomes easy to get some work done in an office.