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Poll boycott in Afzal land

Seer Jagir (Baramulla), May 7: At first glance, everything seemed all right as the thwack of the willow sent the ball arching into the air. Or was it a stone?

The IPL is on and a casual visitor might have thought that cricket fever had caught up with Seer Jagir, Afzal Guru’s village on the banks of the Jhelum.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. “He will always be in our hearts,” said a teenager, standing near the undefined boundary, the smoulder in his eyes laying bare a wound that hadn’t healed even more than a year since the Parliament attack convict was executed in February 2013.

That explains why no one in this village, 52km from Srinagar, turned up to vote at booth number 89. No party could get their polling agents here on a day the Baramulla parliamentary constituency on the whole saw a decent turnout of 40 per cent, the highest in Kashmir in this election.

“Voting is not an issue in this village. The day should pass off peacefully,” said a CRPF constable on guard outside the booth. “We have to be careful. Stones are flying occasionally and one even hit the roof of the booth. You don’t know where they are coming from.”

A forest official, whose office complex housed the booth, said some of the boys playing cricket might be throwing the stones. “Maybe, at least some of them, are using cricket as a pretext to throw stones at us or keep watch that nobody enters the booth,” he said.

It’s not that the village of 450-odd voters, barely 3km from the separatist stronghold of Sopore, is used to boycotting elections. Many have voted here in the past, said Habib-ullah Phamboo, a labourer who has always done his bit for the ruling National Conference.

Phamboo said: “We are poor villagers. That is why we would come out to vote in the hope of benefiting from the process, although we haven’t. But Afzal’s death has pained us all and we decided nobody would vote this time.”

Phamboo, like his fellow villagers, does not believe Afzal had a role in the December 2001 Parliament attack. “He was innocent,” he said.

Tabassum, Afzal’s widow, said the village, by not voting, wanted to send the message that they had not forgotten Afzal. “He sacrificed his life for the (Kashmiri) nation. This (boycott) is a reminder that we have not forgotten him,” she told The Telegraph.

Afzal — hanged nearly 11 years after his arrest — was the rallying cry for both separatists and mainstream politicians as they went about either urging a boycott or seeking votes.

“The mainstream political parties did little to seek his release but shed crocodile tears during the elections to seek votes in his name,” Tabassum said.

Today, Seer Jagir and the adjoining Sopore Assembly constituency, where only 1 per cent polling was recorded, stayed resolutely behind Afzal’s family. Such was the fear of pro-aazaadi protesters that the 37 booths in Sopore were clustered in four educational institutions in the town’s centre for security reasons.

But in large swathes of the constituency — in Kupwara, Lolab, Uri, Safapora — Afzal was apparently not an issue. “There are people who have benefited immensely from the system. If they again come to power they will continue the loot. They have to be stopped. For that we have to vote,” said Abdul Rasheed Zargar of Handwara, explaining why voters thronged booths in large numbers.

Tabassum doesn’t agree. “They should know they are answerable to the blood of martyrs,” she said. “This will hurt our struggle for aazaadi.”


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