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Rajouri-Poonch to ignore poll boycott call

By Anil Bhatt in Bafliaz, Surankote
Last updated on: November 13, 2008 16:43 IST
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Mountain dwellers in the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch are all set to ignore the poll boycott call given by separatists in the Jammu and Kashmir and cast their ballot in the assembly elections.

People in Bafliaz, once safe sanctuary of the foreign mercenaries and launching pad of local militants, separatists and over ground workers, have rejected the separatists' call of poll boycott and decided to favour balloting to bring permanent and sustainable peace in the state.

"There are no takers of Kashmiri separatists poll boycott call here. Ballots are related to governance by the people and we will take part in it," said 67-year-old Din Mohammad Khan, who lost his two sons in a gunbattle with security forces in Hill Kaka area in 2004.

Din's feelings were echoed by another villager, Zahoor-ud-Din of Salian who witnessed the death of several militants in various encounters.

"We have closed our doors to militants and separatists. We have lost everything, our youth. We want peace to prevail in this land locked Surankote belt. For this, we will vote and not boycott it," Altaf Hussain, who runs a cloth shop in the town, said.

Maintaining that poll boycott call will not serve any purpose, a school teacher at Jarnewali Gali, Anwar Khatana said: "We do not want Governor's rule and will vote for setting up peoples' government. The Kashmir issue, which separatists say is related to elections, is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and we are the party to it," he said.

Surankote and Mendhar, which were once most terrorised places, has been calm and peaceful and people there are determined to not support the separatists' poll boycott call.

Similar views were expressed by the electorate in remote terror-affected areas of Thanamandi, Darhal, Budhal and Dharamshal of Rajouri district.

"Poll boycott means continuance of the Governor's rule and people want government of locals. Elections has nothing to do with the Kashmir issue but with governance only," said Gulshana Begum of Shahdara Sharief (Thanamandi in Rajouri district), who lost her son Sarfaraz Khan, a tehsil commander of Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami in 2001 in an encounter in Doda district.

"There is no talk of poll boycott. There is no effect of it. People are participating in rallies and other election activities in Poonch district," District Election Officer Mohammad Afzal Bhat said.

There have been over 30 to 40 big and small rallies in the districts organised by various political parties, including National Conference, Congress, BJP, PDP, JKNPP and BSP till date, in which people thronged in large numbers.

There has been no case of militants threatening voters or separatists campaigning for poll boycott in Poonch and Rajouri districts, a senior police officer said.

In 2002, militants of Lashker-e-Tayiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, HuJI pasted posters in Surankote, Poonch, Mandi, Mendhar, Thanamandi, Darhal, Budhal and Dharamshal areas of Rajouri-Poonch twin border districts asking people to stay away from elections and polling or face dire consequences.

There were 32 militancy incidents including blasts, attacks on candidates and encounters, during electioneering and campaigning in 2002 in the region.

"This time, there has been no militancy incident in Rajouri-Poonch belt and no posters by militants asking to boycott polls are in sight," the police said, adding militancy is on a down slide in the areas.

Political parties, candidates and workers are freely and fearlessly campaigning in the remote and mountainous belts, they said.

Star campaigners of PDP, NC and BSP -- Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Narinder Kashyap respectively have addressed several rallies in the belt during the past one week.

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Anil Bhatt in Bafliaz, Surankote