The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Raring to teach Abdullahs a lesson

Behama (Ganderbal), Sept. 23: The chinks in the Abdullah fortress are showing. But “non-resident” chief ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah seems unaware.

Lying in the middle of the national highway to Ladakh, this congested village has been crying for attention for the past six years. Caught between the diktat of the militants and the “high-handedness” of the forces, the people are waiting to cast their votes to teach “non-Kashmiri” Omar a lesson.

“Look at us. Look at the traffic jams. Look at the number of securitymen around. Look at the dust. The chief ministerhas done nothing for us. He came only to campaign for his son. Even in 1996, he came here to campaign. We saw him then, we are seeing him now. He is only interested in making money for himself and his son,” said Nazir Ahmed, a shop-owner.

“Insha-allah, we think our time has come. We will vote despite threats from the militants. We will vote because we want to teach Abdullah a lesson,” he added.

Both the Abdullahs have promised primary schools in every village where local teachers will tutor in the Kashmiri language. A university and college in the constituency have also been pledged to lure voters. The same promises were made six years ago.

The people of Behama have fielded their own candidate, Abdul Rashid Rather. Abdul has been drawing crowds, but the National Conference is undeterred. “Have you seen the crowd that has gathered to hear me speak in my rallies across the constituency today,” Omar said yesterday. “They are larger than 1996.”

There is nobody around to contradict the claims. None dare.

The anti-incumbency wave sweeping Ganderbal has not affected the National Conference activists who have been campaigning there since the polls were announced.

“Omar will return victorious from here. Yahan se jihad shuru hoga. Jihad Pakistan ke khilaf. Jihad Kashmiriyon ko nark se nikalne ka (A holy war will begin from here. A war against Pakistan, war to liberate the Kashmiris from hell),” shouted Sarfaraz from the rooftop of a bus.

That Omar is facing a tough test can also be told from the dwindling number of National Conference flags in pockets of the constituency from where People’s Democratic Party candidate Qazi Mohammad Afzal is contesting.

“I will take the fight to their camp. I have sworn to drive out the Abdullahs from Jammu and Kashmir. They are responsible for the bloodshed in the Valley. They must pay the price,” he said in almost all his rallies. Rhetoric that most voters love to hear.

“Omar will win if there is rigging. If the polls are clean as they say they have been in the first phase, he will have to go back to England,” said Mehrajuddin.

The young Union minister, however, pooh-poohs that his journey has been rough in his familial stronghold.

“People will vote for me. You will see the results. We may have failed in some areas but we have provided all-round development to the constituency. The roads, power and other amenities,” he said, staring blankly at this correspondent. The eyes are a giveaway.

The seething anger towards the Abdullah family is apparent at Dudrama, Malshaibag, Daren, Arampora, Dobipura, Salura and Fatehpore in the constituency. “This is because of the pressure from terrorists,” a National Conference activist said at Fatehpore, where Farooq Abdullah attended a thinly-attended rally on Friday.

“But the people will vote for us…The winning margin may come down,” he added.

Voters also rue Farooq Abdullah’s statement that if they desire anything for the constituency they can contact “so and so” persons with their requests. “This belies his claims that he has done a lot for the people here. Had that been the case, he would have known the problems. Bahut jhoot bolta hai,” said Abdul in Dudrama.

With militants threatening to gun down those who go out to vote tomorrow, the people of Ganderbal have been left with a Hobson’s choice. “Vote to dalenge, lekin, apne liye (Vote we will, but, for ourselves,” said Nazir, confident that the people will win this time, not politicians who visit their constituency once every five years.

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