At one of the entrances marking the Rohama constituency, that votes in the sixth phase of the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Kashmir on Sunday, posters announce the need to vote for “unity, prosperity and dignity”, with photographs of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) leadership. Among the 13 in the fray are Shabir Ahmad Lone and Zahoor Ahmad Mir, both of whom were jailed under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) amidst the crackdown on political leadership following the scrapping of J&K’s special status last year.
Lone, 45, a National Conference worker since 1999 who had been elected sarpanch from Nadihal in 2018, was picked up on August 14, 2019, and taken to the nearest police station. “I was not sure what was going to happen or how long I would be kept in detention. They only told me that it was precautionary,” he said. Lone would spend the next six months in Srinagar Central Jail.
Describing his decision to contest the DDC polls, the first political activity in J&K since Article 370 was abrogated, as “reaffirming my faith in democracy”, Lone Saturday did the rounds of his constituency meeting people, with campaigning having got over. He says he had to contest for his people who were worried and needed political representation.
However, the PAGD candidate adds, his fight is not just for local issues like roads, water and electricity supply but also “for the dignity of the people of J&K and the restoration of our special identity”.
Also contesting from Rohama and making last-minute rounds is the Apni Party’s Zahoor Ahmad Mir, 50. The nephew of former J&K minister Dilawar Mir, he had been detained on August 7, 2019, days after scrapping of J&K’s special status.
This is Mir’s first election and he says his priority is “development and prosperity of the people of the area”. Earlier associated with the PDP, he is now with the Apni Party, which is seen as backed by the Centre.
As per the PSA dossier against Lone, the “grounds for detention” were his association with the National Conference. It added, “You have started propagating anti-national feelings among the masses against the decision of the Central government for abrogating Article 370 and are actively involved in campaigning against this decision by provoking and mobilising the masses.” The document said his activities were “prejudicial” to the maintenance of public order. Lone’s detention was eventually revoked by the J&K administration on March 10 this year. Dilawar Mir, whose son was also detained, says it had taken them 15 days to locate Zahoor.
Picked up for his political activities, Zahoor had been transferred to a jail in Lucknow. His detention was revoked on January 10 along with that of 25 other inmates in jails outside J&K.
The sixth phase on Sunday will see voting for 31 DDC constituencies. A total of 124 candidates are in the fray from Kashmir and 121 from Jammu division. With Kashmir seeing its first snowfall of the season Saturday, authorities were hoping the weather would not affect polling, which will be held between 7 am and 2 pm.
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