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Mehboob, Mehbooba and a Marxist

While the world wallows in free market economics, in India, Marxism’s skeletal hand reaches from Kanyakumari to Kashmir where the Assembly boasts two CPM members. One is determined to give Mehboob and Mehbooba a run for their money on May 5 from the Anantnag parliamentary constituency.

He was born in 1949 in Tarigam village as Mohammed Yusuf Rather. When he plunged into Naxalite politics as a young student and was arrested — spending seven-and-a-half years in jail — Sheikh Abdullah referred to him in a public rally as “that Tarigami”. The name stuck. Rather disappeared.

The prestige seat of Anantnag is about 60 km from Srinagar on the road that drives to Jammu between avenues of towering poplars, past fields of saffron and mustard and mulberry groves, and villages that make either cricket bats or gleaming tin trunks, buckets and watering cans. It is the hottest constituency in the state. Not only because it is the base of militant groups. The outcome may affect the fortunes of Kashmir’s People’s Democratic Party-Congress coalition ministry.

Everyone is investing a great deal of political capital in Anantnag. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the chief minister, whose home and Assembly constituency at Bijebehara lies in Anantnag, is canvassing for his daughter Mehbooba, the PDP president. Farooq Abdullah, the former chief minister and National Conference patron, launches his most scathing attacks on the Mufti from Anantnag while campaigning for Mehboob Beg.

Yesterday, Tarigami was waiting for Sitaram Yechuri, the CPM politburo member, to lend a touch of glamour to his campaign but there were problems with the flight from New Delhi.

Over a typically Kashmiri breakfast of lawasa (rather like a nan) and omelette washed down with salted tea, Tarigami lamented that both the PDP and NC were urging people not to vote for a “kaffir” like him.

Yet, he says, it was its joint campaign with the communists against the Dogra monarchy that gave the NC its red flag and plough symbol.

Religion has become such a compelling force that diehards are now reverting to Anantnag’s Muslim name of Islamabad. The Hindu name derives from an ugly temple wedged between a mosque and a gurdwara at the end of a winding lane in Rishi Bazaar. The stalls on either side are laden with trays of sweets and nuts wrapped in coloured cellophane, glistening red, gold and green. A crudely painted signboard claims that Sri Anantnag defeated a devil who was terrorising people who lived by the lake, and that the Gita bears witness that Krishna was present at the battle.

A CRPF jawan unlocks the garden gate and subjects me to the usual body search. I must sign a register. Why these precautions' The temple has suffered no fewer than 15 grenade attacks in the past, he says.

Such an obviously Hindu institution, with its gushing spring water, must be anathema to many of today’s conditioned Kashmiris. No wonder the temple grounds are derelict, and the hot sulphur pond a filthy stagnant pool. Visitors are probably few.

Tarigami himself dare not risk public rallies because of security problems. The militants are a second force in Kashmir. The only wine shop I saw in Srinagar was in the high security cantonment area of Badami Bagh. Cinema halls are as rare. Those who claim to be fighting for Kashmiri rights disapprove of both, though whether as Indian imports or non-revolutionary indulgences I am not sure.

The militants worry Tarigami, who fought against the Mufti in 1999, for a very good reason. Everyone agrees that he has a good chance of winning if there is a high turnout next Wednesday. But a low turnout under protective rifles will favour Mehbooba.

Meanwhile, Tarigami’s campaign poster quotes Faiz Ahmed Faiz between the hammer and sickle logo. This Kashmir belongs to all of us, he translates, not just a few dynasties. No doubt, we are oppressed but we are not helpless. The poem was written, a writer in the Urdu weekly Chatam (Rock) explains, while Faiz was languishing in one of Ayub Khan’s jails in Pakistan.

The poster ends on a note of which Alimuddin Street (the CPM’s Bengal headquarters) would approve. It urges a people’s struggle. “We promise to be with you.” All other things being equal, that blend of poetic lyricism, Kashmiri nationalism and revolutionary fervour might yet carry the day. But will they be equal'

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