Separatists look for face saving in Srinagar

18 December 2008
The Daily Excelsior

Srinagar: After successful and relatively peaceful completion of six phases of elections in Kashmir, all eyes are now set on the eight constituencies of Srinagar district going to polls in the last leg of the seven phased polls as separatists would be banking on the urban electorate to salvage some pride for them. Srinagar City, which has been the epicenter of boycott politics for the past 12 years, had registered a voter turn out of less than five per cent in the last Assembly elections held in 2002. The separatist camp including the hawkish faction of Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, which felt completely let down by the electorate of 38 constituencies in the Valley, are hopeful that the people of the city will not come out to vote on December 24. Sources in the several separatist parties admit that their boycott call has failed to evoke any significant response from the electorate. They said the tactics of mainstream parties to delink elections from the resolution of Kashmir issue resulted in confusion among the people who came to vote for better civic amenities and development of their area. The administration, which heaved a sigh of relief following largescale participation of people in the earlier rounds, is having tough time to devise a strategy for the last phase. Officials said while they were not concerned about the voter turn out in the city, which might stay low as per past practice, they are apprehensive that some mischievous elements might attempt to sabotage the peace on the election day. However, mainstream political parties like People's Democratic Party, National Conference and Congress would be hoping for a better turnout in the city this time around as it they believe it would increase the chances of winning for their candidates. A senior PDP leader told Excelsior that boycott during elections works in favour of only National Conference while other parties suffer from it. 'National Conference is the oldest party . 30,000 odd votes were cast in the eight constituencies of the city in last elections out of 6.05 lakh eligible voters. Many of these voters were old time supporters of our rival party,' he said requesting anonymity. He said the PDP was banking on the performance of the party on social, economic, security and development front during the six-year rule of the coalition Government to convince the fence sitters to vote. PDP leader Tariq Ahmad Qarra, who is contesting from Batmaloo constituency, has become the voice of the party in radio advertisements in which he appeals to the people of Srinagar not to waste their vote and cast it in favour of his party to prevent the exploitative forces from coming to power. Nasir Ahmad Wani alias Sogami, who is National Conference candidate from Amirakadal constituency, also appears in a radio advertisement promising to make his constituency a model constituency. Save Srinagar Front, a political party floated by Mufti Nazimuddin last year, is also campaigning on radio waves for its candidates. This party also calls on the voters to rise and defeat the parties which have led to 'discrimination' against the summer capital of the State in terms of development. Another Independent candidate from Amirakadal constituency compares the development of Jammu city with that of Srinagar city, asking the voters to vote for him. Although the advertisements seek votes for a particular party or a particular candidate, each of them wants to ensure a good voter turn out. While the poll percentage in any of the eight constituencies will not touch the dizzying heights achieved in some of the earlier phases of polling, many people in the city want to exercise their right to franchise in order to get better facilities in the city. 'All the ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats live in Srinagar at least for six months of the year but there is no development here. It is because the city always boycotts the elections and the Government takes reprisal measures,' Mohammad Abid, a resident of Rawalpora locality, said. He said most of the youth in his area have decided to vote so that their area gets better road. In Mehjoor Nagar area, the people have usually come out to vote even in the most difficult times but this time they are hopeful that they will not be the only ones. 'The residents of other areas of the city have realized that it does not matter whether they vote or not as the Government is formed anyway. I think more people in the city will come out to vote on Wednesday (the polling day),' Mehrajuddin Wani said. Prominent among those who are contesting from the city seats are National Conference Chief Ministerial candidate Farooq Abdullah who is in fray from Hazratbal and Sonawar constituencies. Qarra is contesting from Batmaloo, Raman Mattoo, who was arrested in the infamous sex scandal case, is Independent candidate from Habbakadal while Ali Mohammad Sagar of National Conference will try to retain his Khanyar seat for the third time in a row. Muzaffar Ahmad Shah, son of former Chief Minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah, is contesting from Amirakadal after leading his party into elections for the first time since 1987. Only 56 candidates contest the eight seats in 2002 elections but the number has gone up by almost 167 per cent as 146 candidates have jumped into fray this time.