Between two mountains, locally called Zulan-dal and Nowgam-naar of the Pirpanjal range, is the breathtakingly beautiful Kapran area. Around 100 km south of Srinagar, most of the residents of the area are Gujjars, and on Sunday former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti chose this place to address them.
The hyper-sensitive Anantnag constituency, which is spread over four districts - Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian -- is going for polls in three phase, with the first phase to be held in Anantnag district on April 23. The second phase will be held in Kulgam on April 29, third phase in Shopian and in Pulwama on May 6. On Friday, the Election Commission of India (EC) reduced the polling by two hours – and it is now to be held from 7 am to 4 pm in Anantnag district.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti and her opponents from the National Conference bank upon small pockets like Kapran to appeal to voters.
There is no sign of elections anywhere in Anantnag district, with flags and festoons missing from the roads. The government has deployed a large number of paramilitary forces and anti-riot police for Tuesday’s voting. The police has also set up election rooms to monitor the situation in Anantnag, which has around 26 active militants.
The three main parties, PDP, National Conference and the Congress are contesting the polls on slogans of safeguarding the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which the BJP in its manifesto has promised to do away with when it comes to power. The BJP is talking about development.
Mehbooba Mufti, who is PDP’s candidate from the constituency, on Sunday started her speech at Kapran with a disclaimer. “I will be frank to tell you that this election is not about a road, it is not about a bridge, it is not about a metre of electric wire. It is about our special position in the Constitution,” Mehbooba said.
She said Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state. She said in the partition of 1947 all Hindu majority states joined India and Muslim majority states got united with Pakistan. “But in case of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, decided that it should join India. Maharaja Hari Singh joined him and he laid down a few conditions for entering into accession with India,” Mehbooba said. The conditions are that Jammu and Kashmir has a separate constitution, a separate flag, and special Articles that debars outsiders from purchasing property here.
“To make it clear to them (Delhi) that if you do away with the conditions, our relation is over -- it is for this thing I decided to contest to be in Parliament,” Mehbooba said. She alleged that “these days the bodies of militants are being mutilated in the encounters”. She equated Congress and the BJP and said “there is no difference between them”.
“Didn’t Congress hang Afzal Guru ahead of elections in 2013 ?” she asked. She said only her party could safeguard the interests of the people. “It is the same PDP that took away the (Army’s) bayonet from you. It is the same PDP that revoked the POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act). How many times I helped you out when the Army was taking you as bonded labour. Hope you have not forgotten it,” she said.
As campaigning for the Anantnag parliamentary comes to an end , I’d like to express heartfelt gratitude to my colleagues & party workers who have toiled day & night. Jeet humari inshallah. Also indebted to PDPs young & dynamic team. @parawahid @ParvezWaffa @SAAQQIIB @TahirsyeedK— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) April 22, 2019
However, the small gathering at Kapran was an indication that in its own bastion the PDP is facing a lot of challenges.
When Mehbooba Mufti left the place after her speech, PDP workers who had come from different areas said that there is no election mood there. “You don’t see any flag on the roads because the situation demands that the elections should take place silently without any noise,” a PDP worker said.
Youths of the locality assembled on the bridge over Sandrin river ask why should they vote. “When our problems are not being solved why should we vote?” said Danish Ahmad Sheru, 22. He said for the past 18 years the road conditions have not improved. “This whole issue of Article 370 is being raised just to bring people to the booths. Nothing will happen to the special status but our basic issues need to be addressed, like roads, employment,” he told Outlook.
Back in Anantnag town people are reluctant to talk about elections. At the Government Housing Colony, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Congress candidate, while talking to reporters said that this time the elections are about the special status and only Congress can save it.
“The Congress has made it clear in its manifesto also,” Mir said. He said people of South Kashmir are fed up with the PDP and people are disheartened with it. “How can people forget that the PDP brought the BJP into Kashmir. Congress party is the only alternative here,” Mir added. Asked why he didn’t hold rallies, Mir said he preferred road shows.
National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, addressing people at Ashmuqam on Sunday, said that Article 370 and Article 35A are very crucial and that any attack on them will inadvertently affect each and every individual of the state.
“The articles ensure the citizenry of our state certain unbridgeable rights on jobs and scholarships. Any move to scuttle the articles will have far-reaching consequences on people of the state. So it is imperative for the people across the state, in particular the people of south Kashmir, to vote. This time, every vote you cast will set the course of our state for the next half decade. This time you will be voting for securing your identity which is facing unbridled attacks from all sides,” he said.
“Keeping in view the challenges faced by our state, our party made a decision of fielding Hasnain Masoodi from Anantnag parliamentary constituency. It was a well-thought decision intended to send a representative voice to Parliament that can fight for our status,” Omar said. Masoodi is a former high court judge.
This South Kashmir district has 5,29,256 electorate and the ECI has set up 714 polling stations. Polling here will indicate the course for the other three district of the constituency which has been without an MP since 2016 when Mehbooba Mufti resigned after becoming the Chief Minister. Since then the ECI has postponed elections in the constituency due to security reasons.