SRI NAGAR: In a marked shift from the none-too-distant past when militancy raged in the Valley, the banners and posters of mainstream political parties now adorn the separatist enclaves in the city’s downtown areas.
All eight Assembly constituencies of Srinagar -- Amira Kadal, Sonawar, Batamaloo, Khanyar, Habba Kadal, Eidgah, Zadibal and Hazratbal -- will go to the polls in the fourth phase of the J&K Assembly elections on December 14 and electioneering in these segments has gained momentum. Banners of the National Conference, the Congress, the PDP and independent candidates dot most parts of the old city, including Khanyar, Nowhatta, Nawpora, Rainawari, Eidgah, Hazratbal, and Fateh Kadal.
Recently, the PDP opened its party office in Khanyar, considered a separatist hub.
In the run up to the Assembly elections, few, if any, publicity paraphernalia were visible in downtown areas of the city. Party workers put up posters at night under the cover of darkness, to avoid being identified, but the need for secrecy seems to have become a thing of the past.
The campaign vehicles of various political parties criss-cross the city, including those areas which were earlier considered out of bounds due to militant threats.
BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu campaigned in favour of party candidate for Khanyar constituency on Wednesday.
“It signifies a change,” Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst and former Head of the Department of Political Sciences at University of Kashmir said.
He attributed this change to the intensifying anti-incumbency wave. “Also, people are fed up of separatism and want development in their areas, which have been neglected by the government,” he said.
Baba said the voter turnout in Srinagar may see a rise as mainstream politicians have been saying that the Assembly polls are not linked to the border issue, but are about day-to-day issues faced by the people.
A brother of a former militant commander here said he and other people in the city, who have been boycotting elections, would vote this time.
“The city’s downtown areas has been neglected. Many people, especially youth have been harassed by the NC-Congress Government, which lodged hundreds of cases against them over their alleged involvement in stone pelting. We will vote for the party that will withdraw the cases and give the youth a chance to live a life sans police harassment,” he said.
After the 2010 unrest in Kashmir, during which over 120 people, mostly youth, were killed, the Omar Abdullah Government registered over 5,000 cases against the youth of the Valley for allegedly indulging in stone pelting.
Although Omar had promised to grant general amnesty to the youth against whom FIRs were registered, cases against hundreds of youth still remain.
PDP leaders have announced that if voted to power, the party will withdraw the cases against the youth.