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Heavy voter turnout sharpens urban-rural divide in Kashmir

By M I Jehangir in Ganderbal
November 24, 2008 15:26 IST
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The heavy turnout in the first two phases of elections in Jammu and Kashmir has sharpened the urban-rural divide in the Kashmir Valley with both sides blaming each other for the "political mess" in the state.
In the urban areas, people have boycotted the polls in "response" to calls of the separatist forces and blamed the villagers for the "ills" in their locality, while country folk in large numbers supported the mainstream political parties and voted in their favour saying the state should not be allowed to be in turmoil forever.
During the second phase of elections inGanderbal on Sunday, people from rural areas of the district turned out in large numbers to exercise their franchise while only committed party workers in the urban areas mustered courage to enter the polling stations and cast their votes.
Sunday's voting was almost the repeat of the first phase of polls held on November 17 in Bandipora district where large number of villagers came out to vote. "We have come to vote ... please do not ask me the reasons but one thing is sure that we cannot continue with strikes, stone-pelting and killing of youth forever. There has to be an end to all this," Mushtaq Ahmad, a youth from Kangan area in Ganderbal district, told PTI.
Ahmad said although he was all for the boycott call of the separatists when the Amarnath Land Transfer row erupted in
June this year, he changed his mind after the treatment meted out to them by the city people on July 13 at the graveyard of the 1931 martyrs.
"The martyrs of 1931 laid down their lives for an end to the aristocracy of the Maharajahs and nobody, mainstream or
separatist, should be prevented from paying homage to them," Ahmad said.
Ahmad and his friends were part of a National Conference contingent which had gone to the martyrs' graveyard on July 13 but were roughed up by the separatists, leading to clashes between mainstream political party members and Hurriyat Conference activists in which several persons were injured.
Bashir Ahmad, another youth, was sitting outside a polling station three hours after casting his vote. "I am here to see how those people who were calling for boycott of elections in July and August will come to cast
votes," he said.
Bhat was apparently referring to supporters of the People's Democratic party candidate Bashir Ahmad Mir, who was allegedly part of the local coordination committee organising the protests during the agitation.
Most of the people in rural areas are sure that their city and town counterparts will not come out to vote in numbers and
their belief is not unfounded.    

"What will we vote for? All our freedom has been snatched. These village people, be it the mainstream or separatists, are behind all the ills we are facing today," Fayaz Ahmad Ahangar, a resident of downtown city, said.
Ahangar pointed out that all leading politicians from either side of the divide belong to rural areas but all of them have their head offices in the city. "Why don't they run their political show from the villages?" Ahangar asked.

"The Geelanis, Muftis and Azads are from out-of-state. They are from the rural areas. This year national Conference has decided to field a man from Kupawara from Amirakadal constituency -- the heart of the city," Basharat Ahmad Bhat said.
Ahangar and Bhat both claim to have been "chronic" stone-pelters at security forces during all major strikes and
protests in the city. "It did not matter which area was protesting, we would rush and join them. But not anymore. We are not going to sacrifice our future while the villagers are making the best of both worlds," the duo said.
Bhat said the rural areas were getting benefit of all the schemes being run by the government including opening of new
employment avenues, construction of roads and other infrastructure.
"Eighty per cent of the MLAs and almost all the minsters are from rural background. What have they done for the
city? The roads in villages are better than our Lal Chowk," he lamented.
Asked if the two had decided to vote when Srinagar district goes to polls on December 24, they were non-committal
but said "polling day is too far ... politics in Kashmir change by the day".

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M I Jehangir in Ganderbal
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