Good response at Salahuddin''s village
24 September 2002
Chennai: Soibug belt in Budgam district witnessed an ''encouraging'' turnout amid a mixed response to the elections. The Pakistan-based chief of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Syed Salahuddin, belongs to this village and the people say they are paying the price for this. From here to Beerwah, the entire stretch is the stronghold of the Jamat-e-Islami and thus a hotbed of Hizb militants. In the last several years, the hundreds of militants have operated from here and as many have been killed in encounters with security forces. From Salahuddin to Shamsul Haq, Ashraf Dar and Riyaz Rasool, all top-ranking Hizb commanders, have come from this area. Both Haq and Dar got killed in encounters and Riyaz Rasool operates from Pakistan with his supreme, Syed Salahuddin. Only two days ago a National Conference block president was gunned down here. Today, on polling day, the mood was subdued. A long queue outside the booth, feeble voices saying they were boycotting the elections, allegations of coercion by security forces and the people''s plight as a result of discrimination in development made up the scene. Salahuddin, who fought the controversial 1987 elections, though from Amirakadal segment, is still revered here. His immediate family members have migrated to Srinagar but his brothers still live here. ''This village is always in focus as far as the security forces are concerned, because Salahuddin is from here,'' says Riyaz Ahmed. ''That is why we were curtly told by the security forces to vote,'' he adds. Will they vote? ''Yes we have already, but half-heartedly.'' At 12.55 p.m., the Soibug polling booth had seen brisk polling. Out of 900 votes, 575 had been polled. The refrain in Soibug and neighbouring Wadwan and Daharmuna was that the areas had been completely neglected by successive Governments. The condition of the roads are bad, said one resident. ''We feel discriminated when we look at the other side of the Budgam district,'' said another. In Soibug, a group of youth recounted how a hospital, school and the fire service station were shifted to other villages just to ''tease us'' because ''they (Government) said we are all militants''. That is why there seemed to be an overwhelming support to the People''s Democratic Party''s nominee, Mohammad Kamal, who hails from the village. ''We do not want to vote,'' said Latief Ahmed in Wadwan. According to him, no attention had been paid to this area. ''We have 200 unemployed graduates and in this village all the people are educated,'' said Mohammad Muzaffar. He said that had it not been for the security forces, they would not have ''bothered to go to the polling booth.'' In Chewa, Razwen and Sanoorkalipora also people generally were not in a mood to vote. The people at large curse the system saying it ''has made our lives miserable''. Elections, they think, will not change their lives as ''Kashmiris never got a chance to chose representatives of their choice''.