On Monday, Ghulam Ahmad Mir, J&K Congress president and party candidate for the Anantnag Lok Sabha by-election, had to call off two rallies at Rajpora and Pampore over fears these would be disrupted by people protesting the killing of two militants a day earlier. These were to be the first rallies of the Congress in south Kashmir where votes will be cast on April 12.
With south Kashmir simmering again, leaders of political parties are not venturing out to seek votes on the streets. Campaigning in the area is taking place inside four walls – in dak bungalows, homes of party workers or at party offices.
“We are yet to organise a major public rally,” Ghulam Ahmad Mir told The Indian Express. “The government has failed to provide an environment where we can move freely and seek votes from the people.”
Rajpora in Pulwama, where Mir was to hold his rally, was the home of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Shahbaz Ahmad Wani who was killed Sunday by police. On Monday, a huge crowd showed up for his funeral where the last rites had to be performed four times.
A PDP leader from the region said: “It is not just the Congress. We are facing a similar problem. There is lot of anger, especially after what happened last year (the crackdown on street protesters).”
Parties fear that south Kashmir will see a low turnout this election. In 2014, Anantnag recorded a turnout of 28 per cent — people turned out in good numbers in the villages of Kulgam and Anantnag but polling booths in Shopian and Pulwama were deserted.
With an uptick in militancy and the region witnessing frequent clashes between residents and security forces, political parties have a difficult campaign. “I don’t think may people will come out to vote after what happened here last year,” said a resident of Noorabad in Kulgam. “We voted in good numbers last time, both for the NC (National Conference) and PDP. But this time, it may not be the same.”
The situation in the what is called the voting belt of Anantnag — Dooru, Kokernag and Verinag — has also changed since last year. Militant activities are on the rise in these areas. On Sunday evening, militants targeted the house of PDP minister Farooq Andrabi and fled with four rifles of policemen stationed there.
Political leaders and parties are now going only to places they feel are strategically important for their constituencies. For example, the Congress has shifted its focus to strongholds in Dooru, Shnagus and Kokernag assembly segments. “We are focusing on areas where we have good presence and where we expect our workers to step out,” a Congress leader said. A PDP leader too said the party is concentrating on “certain pockets” and “expect our workers to come out and vote”.