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Omar says situation not conducive for polls in JK

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, July 16: With the government announcing panchayat polls this year, senior National Conference leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah on Monday said the situation was not “conducive” for elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

“It is unjustified to ask voters to come out for vote when people are getting killed. We will tell Governor to consider the security situation before announcing dates for elections,” Omar said in his address while presiding over party’s provincial committee meeting at the party headquarters here. “Governor Sahab should consider security situation before holding panchayat polls in the state. It is not parliamentary or assembly polls. In panchayat elections around 6000 candidates would contest the polls and its effect could be then seen in parliamentary and assembly polls,” the former chief minister.

He asked the party workers and leaders to hold small meetings.

 

“After election dates are announced, we will decide on candidates. We are not afraid of any party or third party. Let the elections be conducted, we will show our strength and defeat their (opponents) conspiracies,” he said.

The State Administrative Council (SAC) chaired by the Governor N N Vohra last week approved the proposal to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989.

Under the amendment, the elections of Sarpanches of Halqa Panchayats will be conducted directly by the electorate of Halqa Panchayats and not by indirect method of electing Sarpanches from among the Panches themselves.  The SAC also directed the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj to initiate the process of holding elections to Panchayats in consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer, J&K.

Reacting to the statement of PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti that militants like Syed Salahudin and Yasin Malik will “emerge” if Delhi caused a split in PDP, Omar said that militancy has “rebirth” in her rule.

“She is threatening the Centre with renewed militancy if PDP breaks up. Under whose rule, 207 militants were killed last year. Under whose regime, Kashmir University assistant professor and Aligarh Muslim University student, army man, policemen, picked up guns,” he asked.

Omar said that NC had sought delaying of assembly polls after the 2014 floods hit the state. “We wanted proper rehabilitation of flood victims but other parties were adamant of holding assembly polls. What happened to relief in three-and-a-half-year PDP-BJP rule? What happened to dredging and flood channel? We face flood like situation even by slight rainfall,” Omar said.

He said that PDP did not fulfill the promises it made with people before the elections. “The PDP would talk about dialogue with people of Kashmir and Pakistan and strengthening of JK special status. What happened to Agenda of Alliance of the PDP-BJP alliance,” he asked.

He claimed that people were “celebrating” the end of the PDP-BJP government. “People from both Kashmir and Jammu welcomed the end of the alliance. Nobody will pick the guns because of fall of the PDP-BJP government instead people celebrated it,” he said.

Senior NC leaders including party’s General Secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar, and Sheikh Mustafa Kamal were also present on the occasion.

Omar admitted that NC-Congress made several mistakes in their rule.

“We did not hide our mistakes or blame anybody. Our mistakes led to 2010, but we learned from our mistakes, so there was not a single civilian death in 2011,” he said.

“The situation was peaceful between 2011 and 2014. Tourists came here and panchayat and Assembly elections were held.”

He said Mehbooba’s government “weakened the special position of the state with implementation of several Acts”.

“Her brother, Tasaduq Mufti, was right in saying that PDP was party to crime what happened in JK since 2015,” he said.

On Mehbooba’s recent statement that out of his 56-inch chest, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to spare 1-inch for people of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar said, “Why was she silent when heading the PDP-BJP government? We have been saying that Kashmir is a political issue and it cannot be solved through packages.”


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Budgam: NC worker of 4 decades stays away from polls

Firdous Hassan

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Srinagar, Apr 18: Outside a two-storey Government Girls Higher Secondary High School in Ichigam village of Budgam, a man donning a chequered pheran loudly quipped at every person entering the polling booth to cast his or her vote on Thursday.

He argued with them over the performance of their elected leaders in the past as agents of political parties tried hard to convince him to cast his vote or stay away from others who wanted to.

Ghulam Hassan, in his 60s, has been an avid supporter of National Conference (NC) at Ichigam for the last 40 years.   

 

Having worked hard over the years to lure voters for NC, Hassan, Thursday, was one among those who sidelined from the party and preferred not to vote.

He said the previous regimes failed to develop his area due to which he had decided to boycott and also not to “befool” people in this Lok Sabha election.

“It was the only option available with me. I have been supporting the party (NC) ever since I became eligible to caste vote. But it didn’t benefit me nor people of my area,” he said.

Hassan, who as per locals, would often engage himself in heated arguments with political rivals during elections, was dejected over the state of roads and growing unemployment in his village.

“I have two sons, who are sitting idle at home. Many students here have completed their higher studies and haven’t got a job. These politicians appear only during elections and forget their promises once they are elected,” he said.

Hassan said the idea of boycotting the election was way better than living with a hope of some relief from the politicians.

“Under these circumstances, it is better that you vote for a candidate who is trustworthy. But we are short of such candidates,” he said.

When agents attempted “tricking” him by saying his vote would secure Article 370 and 35-A, he replied, “Many among you have voted and let us see how your vote will benefit Kashmir,” he said.

Few metres away in another polling booth in Ichigam, Ghulam Muhammad Dar voiced similar concerns but said he voted after trusting the candidate for one last time.

“I have been casting my vote for the last 50 years and have seen how these politicians befool people. But this is going to be my last vote if the candidate didn’t work for the development and safeguarding special position of Kashmir,” he said.

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Chrar-e-Sharief, Chadoora: Boycott, stone-pelting and ‘saviours of special status’

Nisar Dharma

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Charar-e-Sharief (Budgam), Apr 18: The 15 km serpentine up-hill road from Chadoora to Chrar-e-Sharief shrine is surrounded by a breathtaking terrain. Several vantage points on this route offer a beautiful view of the karewas and blooming orchards.

The road is usually busy with Taveras and Sumos carrying passengers to and fro. However, on Thursday when Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency went to polls, the route was dead still.

The Chadoora and Charar-i-Sharief belt in district Budgam, one of the three central Kashmir districts forming the Constituency, witnessed voting in dribs and drabs as the majority heeded the Hurriyat’s boycott call.

 

As most youth chose to stay away from voting (if not the polling stations), a handful of elderly were seen discreetly entering the booths to vote for their favourite party.

In polling booth 29 A, housed in the Handicrafts building at a stone’s throw from the Charar-e-Sharief shrine, a large rectangular wooden hut had the EVMs set on one end and the officials settled on another.

Armed personnel of both paramilitary and J&K police were scattered within and outside the booth. A few of them jumpy and surveying everyone and everything entering the booth. Many at ease, lying on the dusty mat made out of twisted coconut tree fiber.

An elderly female, probably in her 80s, was walked in by her grandson.

The official at the polling booth stood up to guide her how to cast the vote: “Mouji , wechiv yem che nishaan alag alag partiyan hind, yath nishanass tuhe vote chu travun, teth seet yus batun chu su dabaeviv (Mother, these are the symbols of various parties, whatever symbol you want to vote for, just press the button next to it).”

The lady, however, was crystal clear what button she needed to press.

“Albaen haez (the plough),” she said.

At 10:20 am, 78 votes out of 928 had been polled at the station.

Roughly 200 metres away from this booth, a teenager came running towards his fellows shouting “Rakshak aai (Rakshak is approaching).”

Mahindra Rakshak is an armored military light utility vehicle, used by police in Kashmir to counter street protests.

The teen shouting was at the rear end of a group of youth who were pelting stones at another polling booth set in the Boys Higher Secondary School, Gulshanabad.

The youth had blocked the road by dragging some iron electricity poles right in the middle of the approach road to the shrine.

As the Rakshak approached, the men in uniform, wielding batons and pump action guns, ran towards the bunch.

At least two youth couldn’t flee the approaching cops. They got a beating of their lives and were bundled in the Rakshak.

By 10:30 am, in four polling stations of Charar-i-Sharief, 201 votes had been cast out of a total 3206 votes, a mere 6 percent turnout.

As the stone pelting intensified in the area, the drib and drab turnout dwindled further.

At Chadoora, things did not seem as tense as they were in Charar. But here again, it was the elderly who were keen to cast their votes.

Wearing a white skull cap and a pheran (long cloak usually wore in winters), Maqbool Dar, in his late 40s, said he voted to keep the “communal forces at bay”.

“We are with Hurriyat and the boycott, but the situation in Kashmir right now demands that we vote to protect our special status,” he said.

Dar said if the people did not vote, the Central government run by BJP “will be successful” in abrogating Article 35-A and 370.

“When our representative would be in Parliament, he can take up the issue strongly,” Dar said.

Asked how he claimed so when in the past the “representatives” had hardly done anything for the Kashmir issue, Dar said: “Then the situation wasn’t this bad. These days our existence is under threat.”

Like Dar, Ghulam Mohammad Shah (90), said he voted “for NC to keep BJP out.”

“(Late) Mufti Sayeed sowed thorns on the streets of Kashmir allying with BJP. By voting against them, we want to pull out those thorns,” the elderly said. 

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Why vote? ‘To keep BJP at bay’

Syed Nashir Ali Gillani

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Srinagar, Apr 18: Amid poll boycott and low turnout for Srinagar Parliamentary seat, most electorate across Srinagar city Thursday said they cast their votes to “keep BJP at bay and to safeguard Article 35-A and 370.”

Ever since BJP came to power, it has been maintaining that the party would abrogate the Article 35-A and 370 granting special status to the state.

In its recently released manifesto, it asserted that the party would abrogate the Articles by 2020.

 

As such, majority of voters in Srinagar said they were exercising their right to “save Kashmir” and “stop” the saffron-party’s “growing foot-hold” in the valley. 

“Nobody wants BJP in Kashmir. I have voted so that I don’t again get to see BJP at the helm. Ever since Modi came to power in 2014, we have been suffering miserably,” said a voter, Mohammad Afzal at Khanyar polling station, which was  stationed at government higher secondary school, Khanyar.

At a polling booth stationed at government girls’ higher secondary school, in Saida Kadal here, a youth Bilal Ahmad, a marketing professional in his 30s, said he was voting for the first time.

“The youth has suffered the most because of Kashmir issue. It should be resolved, once for all, then only development is possible,” he said, adding that erosion of Article 35-A and 370 will not be acceptable to   people.

At the same polling station, a polling agent, Ghulam Mohammad (name changed) said that majority of voters have come to vote because of the “imprudent” policies of  the BJP with regard to Jammu and Kashmir.

At Meerbehri polling station near Mamta hotel, close to Dalgate, people were furious over the polling station being set up in a tin shed.

They said that polling booth could have been stationed at a local school.

 “We have been casting votes since decades but our basic problems continue to remain unaddressed. Those elected so far have not lived to our expectations,” said a voter, Mohammad Latief.

“We have been living in the interiors of Dal Lake. We don’t have roads, have to travel by foot. I am voting with the intent that issues being faced by us would be addressed. Moreover, I believe my vote will safeguard our special status,” Latief added.

Terming unity as a greatest strength, a voter, Bashir Ahmad at the Batamaloo polling booth, stationed in a local government school claimed that “politicians have been dividing people just for their interests.”

“We have to unite for securing our future. Our future is at stake as people have been talking of eroding Article 35-A and 370,” he added.

At one polling station in Sri Pratap College, a voter, Mubashir Mir, in his 30s, said “nothing can happen to the Article 35-A and 370”.

“They are the basis of accession and will remain intact. It is not easy to erode them,” he said.

An official of Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar, after casting his vote at government girls’ higher secondary school, Rajbagh said he came on his own will.

“Yes I voted, my family will also vote. For 20 years, I have been working in Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar on temporary basis. So far, I have not been regularised. I hope that one who goes to the parliament, will ensure my regularisation,” he said.

“We don’t want to see BJP in Kashmir, it is after our identity. We can’t afford to lose our special status, the basis of our existence,” he added.

At Chanapora polling station, a retired government official, Mohammad Ashraf Allaqband, who has been voting for the last 35 years said: “PDP and BJP did nothing for people. We have firm belief that Farooq Sahib only be able to defend our special status, raise our issues in the parliament and seek their redressal,” he said.

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