National

Tuning Into Srinagar's Election: Songs, Sacrifices, And The Duel Of Dedicated Candidates

Where two districts of South Kashmir, which are now part of the Srinagar constituency, go to polls tomorrow, the candidates concluded their campaigns on the “plight of Kashmiris” post abrogation of Article 370.

Romana Manpreet
Photo: Romana Manpreet
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As the campaign for the Srinagar constituency came to a close on Saturday evening, the two leading candidates, National Conference’s Syed Aga Ruhullah Mehdi and the People’s Democratic Party candidate Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, wrapped it up with a touch of poignant flair. They concluded their campaigns on the “plight of Kashmiris” post abrogation of Article 370

In contrast to their party leadership, both candidates opted for short speeches during their campaigns, with a focus on the "disempowerment of Kashmiris" following the abrogation of Article 370. They refrained from attacking each other, promoting a tone of sensitivity and gravity throughout their campaigning efforts. However, while Aga benefited from the robust support of his party's infrastructure which had remained intact even after the abrogation of Article 370 making the National Conference a strong regional party across Jammu and Kashmir, Parra found himself relying on a comparatively smaller organizational framework. The structure of the PDP had been significantly weakened post the abrogation of Article 370, with nearly 90 per cent of its leaders leaving it to establish the Apni Party in 2020. The party president Mehbooba Mufti accuses the BJP government of “breaking her party” for her stance.  

Parra's election songs echo a plea for people to exercise their right to vote. It also serves as a call for support towards his candidacy and also his own plight. Parra, having suffered imprisonment and “torture” following the abrogation of Article 370, spent over two years behind bars. His campaign primarily revolves around advocating for the release of incarcerated youth from various prisons nationwide. He talked about safeguarding the people's land rights, which have become increasingly precarious since the revocation of Article 370. He also argued that he would be raising his voice in the parliament about policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu and Kashmir, stating that they do not benefit Kashmiris."

"Kis ko jail se toda, kis ko maar ke chora, 

Koi izzat se hara tu, kisi ko tod ke joda, 

PDP dabanay ka, Baji ke qurbani ka, 

Waheed pe zindani ka, Kashmir ko pamali ka,

Vote hi hisaab karega sab, vote hi badla lega ab, 

Zulm ka badla vote se, sitam ka badla vote se, 

Torture ka badla vote se, jail ka badla vote se."

Some were shattered in prison, some were set free after being battered Some were defeated with dignity, and some you tore apart

For suppressing PDP, for the sacrifices of Baji (Mehbooba Mufti), 

For imprisoning Waheed (Waheed Parra), for disgracing Kashmir, 

Everyone will be held accountable through the vote, now only the vote will bring change, 

Revenge for oppression through the vote, revenge for tyranny through the vote, 

Revenge for torture through the vote, revenge for imprisonment through the vote."

Like Parra, throughout his campaign, Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi consistently emphasized the significance of voting post-August 5, 2019. In one of his speeches, he reiterated that "this election serves as a statement to New Delhi, reaffirming that their decisions of August 5, 2019, are unacceptable to us." He urged voters to convey to New Delhi that "Kashmiris have unequivocally rejected the decisions made on August 5, 2019." “My goals are beyond political gains; my focus is in creating a political space and giving strength and voice to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” 

One of Aga's supporters compiled a video montage of his tweets since August 5, 2019, along with excerpts from his speeches, set to a Bollywood song. The video features a tweet from April 1, 2020, marking Aga's release from house arrest, which reads, "The axe forgets, but the tree remembers."

On the final day of his campaign, despite accusations from the National Conference of administrative interference preventing Aga's campaign in Mir Behri Dal Srinagar, the National Conference says residents rallied in support. This moment was put in a song produced by the National Conference, featuring lyrics from a popular Afghanistan patriotic music playing in the background:

"Watan ishq man, Ham watan jani man."

"My homeland is my love, my dear homeland."

Another song shared by Aga Ruhullah reflects his ideology:

"Yeh Janat Nahi, Hamara Chaman Hai 

Wafadar Tum Kya Hu, Wafadar Hain ham 

Watan ki Sapar Aur Talvar Ham"

This is not paradise, it's our homeland 

You may not be faithful to the country, but we are faithful

 We are the shield and sword of the nation

On the final day of Lok Sabha poll campaigning in Srinagar, the Apni Party, which is being accused by both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party of being a B-team of the BJP, the charges the Apni Party denies, sought to establish the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to determine who is responsible for perpetuating violence in Kashmir. The idea was first proposed by National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah in 2010.

The Apni party president Bukahri while canvassing for his candidate Ashraf Mir from Srinagar constituency, said:  “NC’s leadership was hand in glove with leaders in Delhi long before independence in 1947. That is why they even changed the very name of the party, originally the Muslim Conference, to the National Conference in 1938. As a result, the NC leadership was given control in J&K after 1947, even without receiving a public mandate, as Delhi handed over the government to them.”

Criticizing the PDP, he said, “The other party befooled people with emotional sloganeering such as ‘Self-rule’ and so on. It kept people busy with emotional sloganeering and, in the meantime, established its family rule here.” “Their hands are stained with the blood of innocent people, including children… I request your support and vote for our candidate in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, Mohammad Ashraf Mir. I assure you that he will represent your sentiments and raise your issues in Parliament.” 

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After the delimitation of the constituencies in 2022, the Srinagar constituency includes Srinagar, Pulwama, Budgam, Ganderbal and Shopian districts. Parra says the constituency stretches from Zojila pass in the west to Pir Ki Gali of Pir Panchal Mountains in the South. The constituency has 17,47,810 lakh voters including 8,75,938 male and 8,71,808 female voters, 64 third gender electorates.  This time the government expects the voter turnout to be higher than the last Lok Sabha election.  The voter turnout is key in this poll. 

Ruhullah's latest tweet reads that the fight for Article 370 will begin on May 13, the day people will come out for voting. He has also Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s famous gazal: 

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Ham dekhenge 

Lazim hai ki ham bhi dekhenge 

vo din ki jis ka vaada hai 

jo lauh-e-azal mein likha hai 

jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-giran 

ruui ki tarah ud jaege

While Waheed Parra in his last message on tweet reads:

Is election mein sakhti ka jawab, jail ka jawab, cases ka jawab, vote se denge

 In this election, we will respond to incarcerations, to cases, to oppression with our vote

Tomorrow as Srinagar Constituency heads to the polls, a big question is: will people come out to vote? In the past, Srinagar city and the districts of Pulwama and Shopian in south Kashmir, now part of the Srinagar constituency, have seen voters boycotting polls. Everyone will be watching closely to see how many people participate and the overall turnout. Aga Ruullah and Waheed Parra, who have been urging people to vote, will be paying close attention to the turnout. This election and voting turnout is particularly significant as it's the first polling among the three constituencies in Kashmir.

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