The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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People before power, cries angry Valley

Srinagar, Oct. 19: Mohammed Tariq runs a public phone booth in the city. Business was not bad till dozens of others within a 3-km radius decided to do the same thing. Now, every month his earnings are dropping.

Tariq’s hopes of a new clean government have been dashed. Middle-aged and hardly able to support his family of four with his meagre income of about Rs 1,000 from the PCO, he had thought the situation would improve after the elections and the Congress-PDP combine would change things.

Governor’s rule has made him very unhappy. “Do you know why people voted this time'” Tariq asked. “They wanted some relief, an end to harassment from the SOG (Special Operations Group) and the task force. Who will implement the PDP agenda now'’’ he demands angrily.

He is one of the few people in the city who dared to go out and vote. “Mainly because I was fed up and wanted a change, I was hoping Pota would be lifted,’’ he added. “Under Pota, the police can pick me up, levy false charges against me and throw me into prison without anyone raising an eyebrow. We are helpless and I don’t expect any change under Governor’s rule.’’

He is obviously politically aware and knows what’s happening in the rest of the country. “The Congress can never hope to do away with Pota,’’ he explains. “They may not have used it in Congress-ruled states, but Kashmir is different. The Gujarat elections are next, and, if violence does not decline, the BJP will say the Congress is soft on terror. Can Sonia Gandhi allow this' The Congress will use Pota if it comes to power.”

Tariq, obviously a supporter of the People’s Democratic Party, says the only option is to give the chief minister’s post to its leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He is angry that the Congress and the PDP have not been able to hammer out their differences and form a government. “They should stop thinking of power and for once think of the people of Kashmir.”

The reaction of an illiterate and poor tea stall owner in Ganderbal is very different. “If the politicians cannot stop fighting for power, they don’t deserve to be in power. At least under Governor’s rule, corruption will be less. Our roads will be better. We may even have more employment,” says Ghulam Hasan. “After what they have done, I don’t think anyone will vote for the PDP and the Congress again. They have shown they want only the chair.”

He has no sympathy for politicians. “They are all thieves,” he blandly declares. “It does not matter if they are NC, PDP or Congress, they just want to make money and promote family members.”

A contractor sitting in the tea stall, Iqbal Rasool, is a Mufti loyalist. “I have always been with Mufti saab, whether in the Congress, Janata Party or the PDP, I have followed him around.”

Surprisingly, for such an ardent supporter, Rasool differs with Mufti on a vital question: “No, I don’t agree that we must always have a chief minister from the Valley. Jammu is as much a part of the state as is Ladakh. Azad (Congress chief ministerial candidate Ghulam Nabi Azad) is as Kashmiri as Mufti. We will only help the RSS and the BJP if we talk in such narrow regional terms.”

Rasool is confident that Mufti and Azad will work out something. “After all, we are from the same family. Don’t forget we were once all Congressmen. I am certain by Monday or Tuesday we will have a Congress-PDP government in Kashmir.”

He says Governor Girish Saxena acted at Farooq Abdullah’s behest. “Farooq’s plans won’t work. He thinks he has been very clever. But we will form a government and Governor’s rule will be revoked.’’

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