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|September 4, 1999||
In devastated Drass rehabilitation not Kargil is the issue
Mukhtar Ahmad in Drass
Kargil might be an electoral issue in the rest of the country, but in the actual theatre of conflict it is clearly not so.
In Drass there are no arches, no buntings: only a few posters of the National Conference and a banner of independent candidate Ghulam Hassan Commander.
No one in Drass town on the Kargil-Leh highway, which was devastated by Pakistani shelling so recently, is concerned with what the BJP or the Congress are saying. Their sole agenda is to pick up the threads of life afresh. And in that they look up to the National Conference government headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah as the potential benefactor.
This realisation seems to have improved the prospects of the ruling NC candidate in the Leh Parliamentary constituency among the 1,43,492-strong electorate.
It is a triangular contest here. The Congress has fielded Thupstan Chewang, the chief executive officer and chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council while Sonam Paljor is the BJP candidate.
"We have pinned all our hopes on Dr Farooq Abdullah. We have nothing to eat this winter. Our fields are empty as we could not do the farming this summer because of the war. Our homes have been destroyed," says Abdul Shakoor, a local, and adds "we all have decided to vote for the NC candidate Ghulam Hassan Khan. The government has assured us all support during the winter months."
People in Drass say that all along Ghulam Hassan Khan, a retired deputy inspector general of police, has been honest and helpful to the locals. The NC has been winning this sprawling constituency in the northernmost part of the country and comprising the districts of Leh and Kargil since its candidate Ghulam Hassan Commander won it in 1989.
As Ghulam Abbas, a local Drass resident who returned to the town after three months, comments " the NC won in 1989 mainly as a result of the hostilities that marred relations between the Buddhists of Leh and Muslims of Kargil."
The Buddhists who agitated and got the Ladakh Hill Development Council have traditionally supported whichever party rules at the Centre.
On the other hand the predominantly Shia Muslim orthodox community of Kargil has identified itself with the Muslim community of the Kashmir Valley and its politics. "The NC is our identity. It is the only regional party which we support. The NC has done a lot for the upliftment of this area," says Abdul Gafoor.
Farooq Abdullah has said that the residents of Drass, Pandrass, Matayan and other villages will be provided food, fuel and other essentials till next summer.
Some residents in adjoining Pandrass, however, complain that the NC government did little to support them during their stay at Kulan and Gagangeer in Kashmir. "When it comes to voting we have no choice but to vote for the NC candidate. We cannot vote for BJP or the Congress. These two parties have done nothing for us," adds Gafoor.
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