Srinagar, Oct 24: Thirteen-year-old Ulfat Jan carefully holds a steaming teapot for her 65 year old granny Fatima Begum, who is trying her luck from Harwan constituency in the Block Development Council (BDC) polls.
Crisscrossing treacherous mountainous terrain, Ulfat came all the way from Fakir Gujri to the polling station to ensure that her grandmother feels at ease.
“I walked several kilometers to encourage my grandmother. She has worked hard for the development of this area. My grandmother has promised better roads, electricity, healthcare, and employment to the youth of the area,” Ulfat, a class 7th student, said.
Draped in red shawl and traditional tribal gujjar cap, Fatima, 65, paces the corridors of white washed building designated as a polling booth at Government Secondary School, Shalla Khud Chak Dara, to cast her ballot.
Fatima along with two other women contestants were lodged at a hotel in Lal Chowk to ensure their security. Early morning, they were brought to the polling station in high security to cast their vote.
“I contested Panchayat elections twice and both the times I emerged winner. This time I am fighting for chairperson of Block Development Council to provide better facilities to my people,” she said.
Mother of five children-three daughters and two sons, Fatima is contesting as an independent on a reserved seat of Harwan. However, she is inclined towards National Conference.
“Farooq Abdullah sahab, Ali Mohammad Sagar sahab, and Mian Altaf sahab worked hard for this area,” she said.
Outside the gate of the polling booth, a posse of paramilitary and police were keeping a close watch on the locals who were eagerly waiting for the results.
“There is resentment against BJP following the abrogation of Article 370. We have to fight for restoration of Article 370 but we equally need the development of our area,” said Bashir Ahmad, a local resident who was waiting outside the polling booth.
In the first three hours all the 25 voters –seven Sarpanches and 18 Panches –had cast their vote.
Zubair Nisar Bhat, a 26 year old Sarpanch from Theed Harwan, was one of the voters. Zubair, a graduate from this backward area, was working in a private company before he called it quits and contested Panchayat elections last year to serve his people.
“She (Fatima) is well experienced and we want her to be our BDC chairperson. I contested the polls for development of the area. We have nothing to do with Kashmir issue,” he said.
The 26-year-year Sarpanch claimed that Panchayat members, who recently met Union Home Minister Amit Shah, were facing threats from various quarters. “We have been lodged in a hotel at Khayam because we fear for our lives. My grandfather, who was National Conference block president, was killed by militants in 1998,” he said.
Other women candidates –Saleema Begum, and Raja Begum – too were hoping to break the juggernaut of traditional parties in this area. Like Fatima, Saleema, 60 too was contesting as independent but locals claim she has a support of the BJP.
“I want to work for development of my area. There are lots of issues which need to be addressed. Traditional political parties of Kashmir have betrayed people here,” Saleema said.