Separatists Lose Sheen As J&K Turns Up To Vote

7 December 2008
The Times of India

Sopore: Unprecedented balloting in the first three phases of Jammu & Kashmir polls has the Hurriyat redfaced, and as the state goes for the fourth round of elections on Sunday, a good turnout at places like Sopore in North Kashmir's Baramullah district - considered to be the separatists' last hurrah - could be another nail in their coffin. Judging by the number of contestants in the fray - 24, the highest in Baramulla district including two independent Pandits, Roshan Lal Pandith and Vijay Chicken Koul - a higher turnout looks imminent in the apple-rich town. Sopore, a traditional stronghold of the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami and its one-time stalwart and separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has largely heeded the boycott call in the past. The constituency recorded a dismal 8.09% turnout in 2002. Sopore was also Jamaat's electoral bastion in the 70s and 80s and elected Geelani to the assembly in 1972, 1977 and 1987. After the outbreak of militancy in the late 1980s, Sopore bore the brunt of violence and still remains one of the worst hit. Leaving the past behind, locals appear determined to defy the poll boycott calls despite repeated attempts of coercion, as they contend that Azadi can wait but not the development. Elderly Haji Ghulam Rasool of Badambagh captures the mood saying people won't repeat the mistake of boycotting the polls since they end up electing people they don't want to. 'Geelani supporters are busy in anti-poll campaigning at Hamal Bhagat and Seer. They even threatened people of dire consequences in case they voted,' he alleged. 'But we're determined to vote come what may since we ended up with worst MLAs on previous occasions due to the boycott.' He said the area badly needs development. 'The roads are in a bad shape and water supply is erratic,' he said. Rebel Congress leader and independent Ghulam Rasool Kar has in fact been on whirlwind tours of the Hurriyat-dominated areas to garner support. Kar (87) is locked in a curious battle with Congress' Abdul Rashid Dar, NC's Mohammad Ashraf Ganai and PDP's Abdul Khaliq Bhat. Abdul Khaliq, is former Jamaat chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat's brother. Two people including a Congress worker have been killed in attacks on candidates in the run up to the polls in Sopore.