South Kashmir: The Graveyard Of Mainstream Political Workers
The BJP has rattled PDP in its own backyard – south Kashmir. Had PDP not betrayed its own workers, things might have been different this time for the party.
With the security situation in southern Kashmir remaining on edge as the daily civilian and militant killings go unabated, the mainstream political space in the region is fast shrinking. This has adversely affected the space occupied by the ground workers and polling agents of mainstream political parties in the area. Danish Ganai, on behalf of News Central 24×7, travels to various areas of the region to understand the pulls and pressures faced by political workers in the Valley.
In south Kashmir, one of the main challenges was identifying grass-roots workers. One after the other refused to talk to News Central 24×7, but we managed to speak with a BJP worker in the volatile district of Pulwama.
Muhammad Naveed (name changed), 42, agreed to speak with us only on condition of anonymity. He had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) around 2009-2010. An ardent follower of the BJP, he has an interesting tale to share about the social boycott that he and his family is facing.
Sitting in the veranda of his two-storey house, Naveed says,“Our neighbours don’t talk to us. We are outlaws in our own backyard. We can’t face people. We don’t talk to anyone. People look at us with suspicion. We don’t know who is going to kill us and where we would be killed”,he says.
Naveed, in a precarious situation with his family, says,“I don’t believe my own family now. Forget my own brothers, I even fear my wife. She might kill me. The relation between husband and wife is something unique but things have come to such a low ebb that I don’t have faith in even her. I don’t know who is going to ask or force her to kill me.”
To save himself and his family from the wrath of the locals, Naveedhas had to migrate to Srinagar. The city is relatively safer. He added, “I come to pay a visit to my parents occasionally. I don’t come here. I am afraid of everyone.”
Regarding the house in Srinagar where Naveed has been putting up along with his family, Naveed says, “It is my own rented place. BJP has not provided me with accommodation in the city.”
One of his school-going children has to face hostility from his classmates. The child is taunted because of Naveed’s affiliation with the BJP. “One day, he came to me and asked, Papa are you an Indian? I was taken aback. I asked him who told you this. He said, my friends told me that your dad is an Indian”,says Naveed grimly.
“Being an Indian is a curse in Kashmir,”says Naveed.
When asked if he took these issues up with his party’s high command, Naveed said “They don’t differentiate between their own party workers and common people. For them every Kashmiris is a traitor. I want to weep loudly. I am fed up of everything here. Neither my family nor my people belong to me.”
When asked if he would leave the BJP or continue to help the party in south Kashmir, he answered “I can’t tell you anything right now. The situation is really very tense. The best thing right now is to keep mum.”
He repeatedly told us to not to mention any names or addresses. He also asked us to share the story link with him, so he could be sure that his personal details are not being revealed.“You don’t understand the hell we are going through. Please don’t mentionnames or the address,”Naveed told News Central 24×7.
Political workers in these areas are still conflicted about why PDP allied with the BJP, as the former had sought votes from an anti-BJP plank. The workers also think that the security situation would not have worsened to this extent, had the PDP not joined hands with the BJP.
Aslam Khan (named changed), a PDP worker, has been associated with the party since 2003. Khan, in his mid-50, is a staunch supporter of the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the PDP patron.
He explained how they had managed to win the 2014 assembly elections, “On the instruction of Mufti Sayeed, we went to from one village to the other, telling people to come out and vote or else the BJP will come in power. We, being on the ground, promised people that if they cast their vote, they will be able to keep the BJP out of the state. But what happened in the end? We were left red-faced among our own people and in our villages.”
Khan, a resident of district Shopian, says that Mufti Sahab’s first term a chief minister were the best years that Kashmir has witnessed in the recent past, “It was the only reason we were ready to sacrifice everything for him again. However, we are still in a dilemma about why he went for an alliance with them (BJP). We had even asked him to contest the elections again. Had he done so, we would have won hands down.”
The entry of the right-wing BJP, on Kashmir’s political stage, turned the political work of the workers upside down. One political worker from the restive town of Sopore termed the PDP-BJP coalition a ‘mental clash’.
Peerzada Asim, who was associated with PDP before he joined Congress, told News Central 24×7, “We should not hide it anymore and one should not be ashamed in saying that the PDP-BJP coalition was bad for all political workers in the entire Valley. The coalition was a mental clash between two people. In other words, the coalition partners were two banks of the same river, running parallel to each other. BJP’s entrance in the state has shaken up the entire system in Jammu Kashmir.”
On November 8, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kashmir and announced Rs 80,000 crore package for the state. On its part, the PDP ensured that the rally was well attended. Rough estimates suggest that between 15 to 25 thousand people attended the rally. What many don’t know, is how the workers of PDP managed to reach the rally held in Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium.
A PDP worker in Kulgam was tasked by the zonal president to gather people for Prime Minister’s rally. “We started to plan for the rally at our village at least a week back. One day before the scheduled rally, around 50 people registered with us. But on the rally day, only seven people came. Remaining 43 didn’t show up due to fear of life. We left Kulgam at five in the morning and reached Pampore market around six. We stopped in main Pampore market to get something to eat. On this wintry morning, only one shop had opened by the time. The shop-keeper was a woman. Seeing a vehicle (Tata Sumo) full of people, she asked me are you going to Modi’s rally. I was yet to nod in an affirmative but she already had a rod in her hand and was ready to hit me. I ran for my life and at once and we left for Srinagar. She did not sell us anything. We went hungry the entire day”,he recounts.
On January 7, 2016, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed breathed his last at All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS). Given the resentment against PDP’s betrayal by allying with BJP, his funeral prayer was attended by a few thousand people, at the same venue where only few months earlier, Mufti Sayeed had ensured that Modi’s rally was attended by many more.
The Migrant Association
Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Political Migrant Front For All Parties All Communities, Sheikh Mohiuddin Shabnum, is working for the safety of political workers in Srinagar.
Shabnum, a resident of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, is living in a hotel in an upscale area of Srinagar. He had migrated to Srinagar city after the advent of militancy in the 1990s.
Talking to News Central 24×7, Shabnum says, “We have been residing in these hotels in Srinagar for the last thirty years, due to the threat to our lives. For thirty years, we have been asking successive governments to provide us colonies. Name it anything like Modinagar or Muftinagar, but we need separate colonies so that we don’t have to live in fear.”
“My house in Anantnag is in total shambles. I am not able to visit the place. It has been locked for the past thirty years.”, he added.
Shabnum says that Jammu Kashmir Political Migrant Front has accommodated political workers from areas like Baramulla, Doda, Kupwara, Kulgam, Pulwama and Bandipora.
These political workers, from across Kashmir, have been accommodated in around 18 hotels in Srinagar.
When asked what work he does for the migrant political workers, he said, “I provide registration, Personnel Security Officers and provide them (political workers) hotel rooms in Srinagar.”
Shabnum said that he was interrogated by militants in the early 1990s for carrying out mainstream activities in Kashmir.
He explained that violence was not an option for the people of Kashmir and that New Delhi should start a dialogue process with the Hurriyat so that the situation improves.
“I met Rajnathji twice in Srinagar. And on both occassions, I told him to talk with Geelani Sahab, Molvi Sahab (Mirwaiz Umar Farooq) and Yasin Sahab. A solution will come when they (New Delhi) will talk to Hurriyat. We are on the ground and will do everything under our command to normalize the situation, only if New Delhi starts a dialogue process.”
In 2014, Mufti Sayeed decided to join hands with the BJP, aiming to connect the people of Kashmir with the rest of India. During his swearing-in ceremony as the chief minister, Mufti uttered these words,“We want to connect Kashmiri people with rest of the country. History has given us a chance. We have a majority in Kashmir, BJP has got the majority in Jammu.”However, only three and half years down the line, Mufti’s vision has come crumbling down in front of his daughter’s eyes. Not only has she lost power, but is also on the verge of losing her party.
The BJP has rattled PDP in its own backyard – south Kashmir. Had PDP not betrayed its own workers, things might have been different this time for the party. “Our party was 100 percent popular among masses in 2014. Our popularity came down drastically in only three and a half years. In 2018, our popularity is only five percent in 2018. We had to pay a heavy price for joining hands with BJP. Things are back to 1990s,”says a PDP sympathiser from Pampore.
Given the duress under which the political workers are working and living in south Kashmir, the region has become no more than a graveyard for mainstream political workers.
Note: Some of the names and places have been changed to hide the identity of the political workers given the volatile situation in Kashmir.