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|August 30, 1999||
Campaign Trail/ Dr Farooq Abdullah
'My government is facing many challenges. But with your support I am sure we can sail through'
He breezed into the small township of Ichigam in Budgam district along with his son and National Conference candidate for Srinagar constituency Omar Farooq, only to be disconcerted.
There were no arches, no buntings. Initially no audience too. However, people started trickling into the sprawling Ichigam high school ground, 25 kilometres from Srinagar, once the state chief minister and NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah had started his speech from the makeshift rostrum.
The chief minister, travelling in a high-security cavalcade of 30 bullet proof cars which includes a high frequency jammer car acquired at a cost of over Rs 10.50 million to neutralise any remote control explosives, was told after reaching the venue that no one had turned up to hear him.
Accompanied by his son, the Housing Minister Moulvi Iftikhar and the ubiquitous Black Cats, Dr Abdullah insisted on going ahead with his programme "even if there is nobody to hear me."
As the meeting gets underway the ground starts filling up rapidly. It is clear that at least in these parts the ''Qaid-Sani,'' as Dr Abdullah is called by the locals, is a crowd-puller. One woman gushes, "I could not resist staying at home; I left my children and came to hear him."
Soon Omar Abdullah stands up to speak. He reminds the villagers that he is progressing in his promise to learn the local lingo. "I have learnt half the language. You must be happy. Though it is still broken I assure you I will be able to speak fluently when I return to you next time," he exclaims.
He can't resist a dig at the leaders of the All Parties Huriyat Conference who are boycotting the polls. "My grandfather fought for your rights and the ballot and now these people are telling you to abandon all that," he remarks.
Farooq gets up and tells Omar to be brief. "My father is telling me to be brief as we have to move on to the next venue and the son must obey the orders of his father," Omar quips. Moulvi Iftikhar gets up and launches into his speech with a tirade against the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party.
Someone from among the audience shouts "our leader young Omar" and the rest of the crowd takes it up. Finally Farooq stands up to speak. Resplendent in white salwar kameez, he asks the people to vote for his son Omar and the crowd which has now swelled shouts back, '' zaroor." As Farooq takes leave the Black Cats and the state's Special Services Group form a virtual wall around him.
The crowd wants to get closer but the gun-toting security men do not relent. Farooq waves at the villagers and gets in to his bullet-proof car.
At Parnew, the next stop, the villagers are gathered near a shop and Farooq Abdullah gets down from his car and turning the pavement into a podium exhorts the gathering not to heed the boycott call of the APHC. He admits not much has been done in these villages but blames the Centre for the financial crisis.
He refers to the period of governor's rule in the state and says "they did not collect the sales tax, the electricity bills and took an overdraft of Rs 7000 million from the Jammu and Kashmir Bank. My government is facing many challenges. But with your support I am sure we can sail through."
The crowd cheers him but they also subject the chief minister to an intense barrage of questions. One villager shouts, "see we don't have a doctor here. See there is no drinking water, no roads. There is so much unemployment here." Farooq tries to pacify them. He assures the locals that he will look into all their problems.
Soon he is in his car again and the journey ahead is bone-jarring. We are nearing another village, Falchin. The locals are waiting for the chief minister and they have planned a grand reception. We stop at a scenic spot with paddy fields on either side and snow-covered peaks in the background.
Men, women and children rush to greet the chief minister who is forced to move on foot. Jubilant supporters break into dance. The song and dance wake up the jawans of the Rashtriya Rifles who are sleeping in a makeshift camp near a brook.
They must have been awake all night keeping vigil. Once again Dr Abdullah assures the locals a lot of good things, among which are urgent repair of the road and certain welfare schemes. "We have to do a lot to mitigate your hardships. But you have to cooperate and you should be careful about the enemies and that Mufti Sayeed. See, when he was Union home minister, this Mufti Sayeed did nothing for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. What he did was to thrust Jagmohan on us as the governor against our wishes. He actually assured me to the contrary and when he betrayed us I protested and sacrificed my government," he reminds them.
After a cup of tea and amid loud slogan-shouting Farooq takes leave to move towards the next venue. En route he stops often and tries to mingle with the people sitting along the road. Farooq reaches Soibugh village to a rousing reception.
The meeting begins with the recitation of verses from the Quran. Omar Abdullah makes a brief speech and tells the villagers to vote for him. "As Member of Parliament I will get Rs 20 million each year and I can spend them in this village for your various schemes," he promises.
Finally Farooq gets up and he is garlanded and adorned with a traditional turban. "We have presented the report of the autonomy committee. After the formation of new government in Delhi three central ministers and three NC ministers will discuss the report," he says. As usual he comes down heavily on the APHC leaders.
He then turns to the Kargil incursion which he says "brought many miseries to the people who had to take shelter in safer places." Referring to the problems being faced by the denizens of Matayan, Pandrass and Drass the chief minister agrees, "we have to provide them free ration and money so that they can survive the winter."
Dr Abdullah also announces that panchayat polls will be held in the state in October and asks the women to fully participate in them. He then starts to leave and the crowd sings out in one voice "we will ensure Omar wins from this constituency."
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