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Veerappan vs favourite son

Baramulla, Sept. 15: The congregation in the Jama Masjid at Mohallah Jadeed here is just beginning to disperse. White caps are all around. Almost all of them are reading or holding a white sheet of printed paper.

“Since 1947, we have seen one election after another,” the pamphlet in Urdu reads. “Never has the Indian government sought to redress our grievances with any degree of sincerity… these elections, too, are meaningless.”

The pamphlet has been distributed by Shabir Shah’s Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party. The azaadi forces have all but called for the boycott of the Assembly polls. Across the Valley, last Friday has seen the largest, organised gathering of people before polling day tomorrow. It is also the last day of campaigning for the first phase.

At the Tashkent Bazaar here, a crowd gathers around us as soon as the question is popped: Will they vote'

In front of the masjid, where the faithful are just emerging from prayer, they mob quickly. About 500 metres away is Abdul Rahman Geelani’s house in Tawheedgunj. Geelani, a lecturer in Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College, is an accused in the attack on Parliament.

From the first floor of the house opposite the masjid, a bearded man who looks to be in his early forties shouts: “Till the Hurriyat enters the fray, there will be no real election.”

But Shabir Shah, whose party has distributed the pamphlet in the mosque, is not part of the Hurriyat. “Someday or the other he will be in the Hurriyat,” the man shouts back.

In the bazaar, the Valley Kashmiri always speaks to the press as if he were addressing the universe, so primed is he by years of media focus. There are 42 men around me, saying the same thing at the same time – at dictation speed – often quoting Urdu couplets. A colleague from another newspaper is worse off – there are more men around her.

The leader and the most outspoken is a thickset, middle-aged businessman who speaks in English. “A favourite son (Abdul Rehman Geelani) has been subject to the worst kind of humiliation. Catch Veerappan if you can. Why jail a learned professor' Simply because he is Kashmiri' Is this how our children will be treated when they go to India to study and to work'”

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