The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terrorism’s loss is not ruler’s gain

Sopore, Aug. 26: This sleepy little town was a terrorist hotbed in the early nineties and scars from those times are indelibly marked on the minds of the people.

Indian security forces burnt down the main market about 10 times. In 1993, after a militant snatched a light machine gun from the BSF, troops fired indiscriminately and killed several civilians. But by the end of that year, militant activities had scaled down considerably following the murder of main Hizb-ul Mujahideen commander Akbar Bhai, who was from Sopore.

Today, there is little support for terrorism in the area. Many militants from Sopore have surrendered, many more have died in encounters, and nearly all of those detained in prison have returned home. Residents say the area lost nearly 400 young men at that time. Those who surrendered are now living quietly in the villages around Sopore and people are trying to forget those terrible days in the early years of the uprising.

But the people of Sopore are still angry. The anger is not against the security forces or the militants, but against the ruling National Conference — particularly Abdul Ahad Wakil, the elected MLA from here.

Till recently, Wakil was the Speaker in the Assembly. In the last elections, the electorate defied a militant call for boycott to vote Wakil to office. Today, they reserve the choicest abuses for him. Faced with the public’s high expectations, Wakil’s popularity has been on a steady downslide.

“He is a chor (thief). Yeh garib ka khoon peeta hai (He drinks the blood of the poor),” Masood, a shopkeeper in Sopore, says. “Sab dhokebaaz hai (They are all frauds),’’ Hamid, another villager, pipes in. “We thought he would do something for the area. But he has not even bothered to meet us after election day. He has sold his house here and bought a big bungalow in Srinagar,’’ says Hamid, who runs a tailoring shop next to Masood’s.

Sopore’s people have decided not to vote on September 16. Not because they want to go along with the militants, but simply because of their seething anger for and utter disillusionment of the National Conference. They find no alternative to the National Conference that they can vote for, though many speak of the good work done by a local doctor, who they believe may get the nomination from the Congress.

There is also a debate about the Hurriyat Conference and its decision not to contest the polls. Majority of the people toe the Hurriyat line and mouth its argument. “Yes, the Hurriyat decision is wise. The elections will prove nothing. It could have made sense if this was the first step in resolving our problem. But, anyway, the polls will be rigged to favour Farooq Abdullah,’’ says Ayaz Raool, a school teacher.

Despite repeated assurances by the Election Commission and daily broadcasts by the local television channel that two officers from outside the state would man every election booth, no one believes the chief electoral officer.

The rumour doing the rounds in the Valley is that the voting machines have been programmed to ensure a National Conference victory. There is little the administration can do to dispel such misgivings.

But there are also those few who feel that the Hurriyat should have contested the elections. “The Hurriyat could have won with a thumping majority, because we would all have voted for them. They represent the change we are looking for. I am sick and tired of the same old faces in politics,’’ says Fatima, an educated mother of four children. She will not vote because she does not trust a single politician.

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