'We will see him again during the
Mukhtar Ahmad in Anantnag
The campaigning in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency will end tomorrow. But there seems to be no let-up in the organised militant attacks on political activists. Only yesterday an independent candidate escaped a landmine blast. A prominent National Conference leader and block president was not so lucky -- he was gunned down in Kokernag.
So, it isn't surprising that former Union home minister and People's Democratic Party candidate Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has shifted focus from canvassing for himself to pleading with the 804,983 voters to exercise their franchise on Monday.
Mufti has a neck-and-neck contest with NC candidate Ali Mohammad Naik. There are in all 18 candidates in the fray, including the Congress' Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed and the Communist Party of India-Marxist's Mohammad Youssuf Tarigami. The BJP has also fielded another candidate, Shaukat Ahmad, after its nominee Ghulam Hyder Noorani was killed in a landmine blast.
Sayeed had won the seat last year defeating his nearest rival NC candidate Mohammad Youssuf Teng. This time he has a tough battle ahead. Admits Mehbooba, his daughter: "Our main worry is that the people would stay indoors, like they did in Srinagar and Barramulla. A low poll in this constituency will only benefit the ruling party."
She adds, "We are telling the people everywhere to come out without fear to vote and end this corrupt rule of the NC."
The NC, however, has a different version. "Last year Mufti won only because the NC candidate was weak and people did not like him. This time we have fielded a strong candidate," a senior leader said.
But the going is tough for the NC. Everywhere the NC candidate, accompanied by his party
president and Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah goes, there are only complaints. Both are questioned by the villagers about the growing unemployment, corruption, roads, lack of basic facilities, poor medical care etc.
"They have failed to come up to the expectations of the general public. You see, we don't have even a primary medical centre in this village. See the condition of our roads, the ministers are busy minting money," said Abdul Rahman of Nellow, a sleepy town.
Early Thursday morning, police officials arrived in the village and went door to door asking villagers to join the election rally to be addressed by the chief minister. Within an hour 300 villagers and nearly 200 jawans of the police and paramilitary were waiting in front of the BSF battalion headquarters for the arrival of Dr Abdullah. A local NC leader appeared on stage and shouted slogans. A senior police officer who arrived from Srinagar enquired of an inspector why the gathering was so small.
"Sir, we managed this after great persuasion," the inspector responded, saluting his boss.
The NC leader, meanwhile, was shouting to the villagers to remain calm. " I will brief Dr sahib about your problems right here," he assured.
A little later Dr Abdullah emerged from a state-owned helicopter. On his way to the podium, he stopped near a group of children to enquire if the teachers were attending their school. "No," came the reply.
Naik was the first to take the mike. He asked the crowd to defeat Sayeed by voting "for
Gaffar Naik's son". "I am the son of farmer Gaffar Naik and since you too are farmers, vote only for me".
He assured the villagers that he would invite the attention of the government towards their problems. Dr Farooq stood up and the crowd cheered. "I know your problems. You need a school, a hospital, roads and employment," he said.
The problems, Dr Farooq continued, "are many and that is why I have said that the NC will support any party that rules at the Centre including the BJP. You see, I needed more troops and I rushed to Delhi and they have send additional reinforcements.
"I have deployed more forces in villages and towns. Without any fear, you should come out on Monday and vote."
Silence greeted this statement and the chief minister hastened to add, "Troops have to be deployed all around so that a close watch is kept on the militants."
Dr Abdullah assured the villagers that he would return after the polling. He promised them a hospital. As he prepared to leave, the villagers moved towards him to narrate their problems. Many people carried petitions in their hands, among them Saja, a 58-year-old. As she moved forward, she was pushed back by security personnel. Dr Abdullah waved and was gone.
Clutching her petition still, Saja muttered: "We will see him again during the next election."
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