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18 Hour Power Cuts In VIP Kashmir Seat

May 07, 2024 15:20 IST
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'I have faced 18 hours of darkness daily all my life.'

IMAGE: A bakery functions in the dark in downtown Srinagar. Power cuts are a common feature of life in Kashmir. Photographs: Umar Ganie for

Tariq Ahmed, a 60-year-old tailor in Baramulla in Kashmir, has only one desire in life.

He wants Baramulla to get uninterrupted 24-hour electricity supply.

So how many hours of electricity does he get at his home in Baramulla? "Two hours," says Ahmed.

"At best four hours. And if you want, stretch it further to six hours," Ahmed adds.

"I have faced 18 hours of darkness daily all my life. Power cut was, is and will be my way of life till I go to the grave."

And what is the electricity bill he gets? "I pay Rs 1,500 monthly."

"Why are you paying so much for the scant electricity you get every day?" I ask.

If he does not pay the electricity bill on time Ahmed said even the few hours of electricity he gets will be cut off.

"It is better to live with some electricity with which you can charge your mobile and inverter for some time rather than going without electricity," Ahmed says.

Seeing my look of incredulity, Ahmed stops two school girls and asks them about the power crisis in Baramulla.

In their school the children tell me the power supply is very erratic and at best they get not more than four hours of power when the classes are on.

"We are used to darkness and that is the way of life," says one girl, who refuses to give her name.

Asked if the abolition of Article 370 has helped him in any way, Ahmed says, "No way. The state of power supply is the same."

IMAGE: Baramulla has become a VIP constituency with Omar Abdullah throwing his hat into the electoral ring.

Ahmed sees a ray of hope as Baramulla has become a VIP constituency with National Conference Vice President and former chief J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah contesting the Lok Sabha elections against Sajjad Lone of the People's Conference.

Mohammad Fayaz Mir, a former Rajya Sabha member, is the Peoples Democratic Party candidate.

"My vote is for Omar Abdullah. He is a great leader," says Ahmed. "I have great hopes from him. He did a great job as chief minister and I feel he will do the same for Baramulla if he becomes the MP."

Ali Aksar, a bank executive, joins Ahmed in narrating his woes. "Baramulla mein andhera hi andhera hai (there is darkness all around in Baramulla)."

"Generators and inverters are the only source of power that we put our trust in."

"Sab logo ne Baramulla ko Allah ke saharey chod diya hai (Baramulla has been left to Allah's will).

Protests over the power shortage, Ali says, have been going on for years, but have been ignored by both the national and state media. "We are children of a lesser God," says Ali.

Baramulla is located 60 km from Srinagar and historically it was the gateway to the Kashmir Valley from Rawalpindi-Murree-Muzaffarabad now in Pakistan.

Independent India's first war started in Baramulla when Pakistani raiders attacked India after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947.

To commemorate the martyrs of India's first war a Sikh war memorial has been built on the outskirts of Baramulla. 170 Indian soldiers were martyred in the war, whose names are displayed on the memorial.

Two years ago, Baramulla was in the news after Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist Yusuf Kantroo started operating from his hideouts in the town. He was involved in several killings of civilians and security personnel till the Indian Army eliminated him in April 2022.

In May 2022, Baramulla made it to the news again after the bombing of the state's sole wine shop that opened after Article 370 was abrogated.

One wine shop employee died and three others were injured as the terrorists did not approve of wine shops which they considered un-Islamic.

Today all those terror activities seem to be from a distant past as posters and banners of the National Conference and People's Conference welcome you to Baramulla.

IMAGE: Sajjad Gani Lone's poster greets you on the way to Baramulla.

As you enter Baramulla a huge banner of Sajjad Gani Lone welcomes you, spelling out his two missions for Baramulla, 'Dignity and Development'.

'Let the voice be heard,' the poster states.

A group of young supporters are discussing politics at a People's Conference office in Baramulla next to the river Jhelum.

"I am a BTech engineer and am jobless. If I have to do a job, there is no other option for me but to leave Baramulla," says Naeem Ahmed Najar, the district youth secretary of the People's Conference, Baramulla. "Therefore, I believe in Sajjad Lone's politics as his sole agenda is development."

Asked how Lone can create a job for a BTech graduate in Baramulla, Naeem says, "The Jhelum flows from Baramulla and we generate only 4,000 mega watts of electricity. If a visionary like Sajjad is elected he will ensure 20,000 MW power is created which will lead to more jobs."

Naeem claims that Sajjad was an effective member of the legislative assembly from Handwara and his development work speaks for him.

When pointed out that the BJP is not contesting elections from Baramulla only to help Sajjad Lone who his critics consider to be a BJP stooge, Asif Lone, the district president of People's Conference, pitches in. "These are lies. These allegations are made by Omar Abdullah against Sajjad which are false."

"Omar is a BJP stooge. He was with Vajpayee as a minister. Vajpayee wanted the abrogation of Article 370 and Omar had no problems in joining him. Omar Abdullah loves the BJP, but not Modi. Therefore, he is making allegations against Sajjad," says Asif Lone.

Asked why his party's presence is not felt in Baramulla as there are not many hoardings of the People's Conference around, Asif Lone says, "We applied for 32 banners but got permission for only 14. Therefore, you don't see so many banners of our party."

"Today poll campaigning is done more effectively through digital media. Our young team members are very active and you will see on results day that Omar Abdullah will lose the elections."

IMAGE: 'Omar Abdullah loves the BJP, but not Modi,' alleges Asif Lone, district president, People's Conference, Baramulla.

"Sajjad has no chance of winning against Omar Abdullah," declares G H Rahi, district secretary of the National Conference's Baramulla unit

"Naam hi kaafi hai Omar Abdullah ka (Omar Abdullah's name alone is good enough to win). He is a leader of stature in Jammu and Kashmir politics. Sajad is a nobody," says Rahi,

Omar Abdullah's top priority, assures Rahi, after winning the election would be to implement the Punjab model of electricity in Baramulla.

"When the Aam Aadmi Party can ease the problems of people in Punjab by giving 300 units of electricity why can't we in Kashmir do the same?" asks Rahi.

"After all, it is the Jhelum river's water that is needed to produce electricity and Baramulla will do it in the near future."

Ahmed the tailor will need to wait to see his dream of all day power realised.

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