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|September 17, 1999||
Policemen in civvies make up the numbers at Farooq's meetings
The best chance for the ruling National Conference to retain the sprawling Baramulla constituency in northern Kashmir lies, paradoxically, in a low turnout. And it might well get that.
The party is pitted against former Union environment minister Professor Saifuddin Soz, who used to be in the NC until the vote of confidence in Parliament earlier this year. Professor Soz was expelled from the National Conference after he defied the party whip and voted against the central government.
But Professor Soz is not much of a threat to the comparatively unknown NC candidate Abdul Rashid Shaheen. More of a threat is the Independent candidate, Muzaffar Beigh, who along with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed recently launched the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party.
Baramulla comprises the two districts of Kupwara and Baramulla along the Line of Control. Kupwara, which in the last election helped the NC neutralise the reverses it suffered in Baramulla, is now a hotbed of militancy. A visit to the area leaves one with the impression that the voters are generally keen on staying indoors rather than participate in the poll. It is not only the militant threats but the state government's non-performance which may lead to a low voter turnout on September 18.
Admits a senior NC leader, "we will win in case the polling percentage is low. If the polling is high the Opposition has an edge." PDP candidate Muzaffar Beigh says he will win comfortably if the polling percentage is above 50 per cent.
Both in Baramulla and Kupwara residents say the administration has failed to mitigate their hardships. "No doubt there are threats following the recent attacks on the security forces camps, but what has Dr Farooq done for us?" asks Abdul Rashid of Handwara. He adds, "the ministers, the government officials are neck deep in corruption. You get jobs only if you pay huge amounts to money to these ministers."
Not many attended the chief minister's poll meeting during his visit to the area. "They brought in people from Kupwara, mostly policemen in civvies to bolster the gathering," alleges Abdul Rahman who owns a shop. However, he says there is a lot of fear amongst the populace as the militants have issued statements warning of dire consequences to anyone who votes.
"Following the recent stepped-up violence no one wants to take a chance. I think the poll boycott will evoke considerable response in this area of Kupwara," says Rehman.
In Baramulla's main taxi stand Abdul Rashid says he will never vote. "What has Dr Farooq done for us. See how we continue to suffer. There is lot of harassment from the police and security forces," he says.
But the NC will benefit in the far-flung areas of Gurez, Tanghdar, Uri and parts of Kupwara where usually the ruling party has an edge. The All Parties Huriyat Conference leaders visited various areas in Baramulla and asked the people to boycott the polls. However, the APHC leaders led by its chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani were arrested by the police and are presently lodged in various jails.
In nearby Langate town the administration manages to rustle up a small gathering for the chief minister. A ragtag band performs a medley of song and dance. The crowd again mostly comprises policemen from Kupwara brought to Langate in police trucks.
As the chief minister flies in in the state-owned chopper there is no enthusiasm among the onlookers. Dr Farooq is escorted to the venue by the NC candidate. The chief minister addresses the crowd promising them autonomy and steps to provide jobs to the uneducated. The small gathering cheers listlessly and shouts slogans. Dr Farooq soon takes their leave to fly back to Srinagar.
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