Azaadi To Patriotism, A Generational Sweep

22 November 2008
The Times of India

Bhaderwah: Meet three generations of the Khateeb family here - a study in contrast that best explains the generational change in the militancy-ridden state, where polls are under way, through the month. Abdul Hai Khateeb, 80, has never ever voted - he believes in 'azaadi'. He has no intention of changing his stand at this ripe old age and will not vote this time either. He is the resident-grand-old-man with his known 'separatist views' in this town where both BJP candidate Daya Krishen Kotwal, as well as Congress nominee and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, are trying to woo him into casting his vote. His son will not vote because he is not around. He crossed over 10 years ago - into Pakistan, along with militants. He is apparently still there. The family seems to have given up on his return. Khateeb's grandson Abu Zarein Khateeb would have been a first-time voter at age 26. An MBA graduate from Bangalore, he runs the family shop in Sadarbazar, set up by his grandfather. Abu declares emphatically: 'I am a hundred per cent Hindustani.' He believes in the democratic system but he too has decided against voting this time. 'There is no candidates who is qualified to be an MLA, according to me. Politics have been mired in religion this time and there has been a communal polarisation. Also, there is too much money power at play,' Abu says, with the clarity of a management graduate who could have done well for himself at any MNC in a big city, elsewhere in the country. Instead, Abu has chosen to stay on in this small town. He has decided not just to look after the fairly big electrical goods and home appliances shop - confidently tackling customers and suppliers; firm, but with a smile on his face and doing brisk business - but has also taken over the onus of caring for his grandfather, and the rest of his family. Taking time off in between chats over three mobile phones, and attending to customers, Abu seemed glad to be able to speak to someone from outside on issues like election and his political views. 'I disagree with him,' Abu said, pointing at his grandfather who is busy speaking about how his 'conscience does not allow him to vote because he believes in azaadi and not in the Indian Constitution.' With a smile, he says he has no apprehensions in taking on the responsibility of his family. There is another brother 'who will go out', Abu says, while 'I stay back', reflecting an usually deep sense of responsibility coming from a 26-year-old who has also seen the world outside Bhaderwah, and his militancy-ridden state of Jammu & Kashmir. Abu, however, says he has big plans to expand present business including venturing into real estate, when asked if he is not feeling stiffled running this shop after an MBA degree from Bangalore. Oldman Khateeb, meanwhile, pulls out a letter to show that he has finally got a call from the passport office in Jammu. He had applied for a passport but never managed to get one so far, and is not quite hopeful of getting it this time either. 'Half my family is in Pakistan, my daughter is married there but they will not let me go or let her come,' he says, asking, 'why should I vote then?' Khateeb has been a rebel from the times of Sheikh Abdullah, as he sided with the plebiscite-group in Kashmir - this stand took him behind bars, for about fourteen years, off and on. The man still holds firm to his views, with warm smile for all who come by, and speaks his heart out. There are too many striking contrasts in this constituency with a population that is divided almost into half between Muslims and Hindus, who have often erupted against each other in the past. But the recent years have seen better relations between the two communities and peace has prevailed for the last few years.