SRINAGAR: The buntings, banners and posters of mainstream parties including the saffron Bharatiya Janta Party stand tall in the once-no go areas for mainstream politicians in downtown Srinagar.
All the eight Assembly constituencies of Srinagar – Amira Kadal, Sonawar, Batamaloo, Khanyar, Habba Kadal, Eidgah, Zadibal and Hazratbal -- will go to polls in the fourth phase of elections for J&K Assembly on December 14 and electioneering in these segments has picked up.
Unlike the past when hustle bustle of polls was non-existent in downtown, this time banners of National Conference, Congress, Peoples Democratic Party and independent candidates dot most parts of the old city including Khanyar, Nowhatta, Nawpora, Rainawari, Eidgah, Hazratbal, and Fateh Kadal.
Most of the downtown is hub of separatists and used to witness frequent stone pelting incidents between police, paramilitary personnel and youth.
Not only the banners and posters of mainstream parties including NC, PDP and Congress are visible but the posters and hoardings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with party symbol and flags are also noticeable in Fateh Kadal, Khanyar and some other strongholds of separatists, where mainstream politicians feared to go for campaigning during past elections.
Recently, PDP opened its party office in Khanyar, considered to be the heart of the separatist hub.
It was unthinkable before announcement of Assembly polls in the State to even imagine posters of mainstream parties including BJP or Modi’s picture in downtown Srinagar.
Besides, there used to be no election campaign publicly in the downtown areas during past elections and posters and banners of mainstream politicians were pasted in the night by their supporters to avoid detection. But now that seems a thing of the past as people are now pasting buntings, banners, posters and hoardings of their parties in broad-day light.
The vehicles of political parties fitted with public announcement system travel frequently in all downtown areas including some volatile and stone-pelting prone areas in the day. Besides, the candidates are also holding road shows to garner support.
The campaigning has been going on smoothly and even candidates are carrying out a door-to-door campaign to garner support for themselves.
BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu also campaigned in favour of party candidate for Khanyar constituency in Gousia Hospital area in downtown Srinagar today. He addressed a road show in the area and urged people to vote for BJP candidates.
The supporters of BJP, which was seen as an untouchable party in the Valley, are openly moving in vehicles with their party flags and posters.
The famed Boulevard Road on the banks of world famous Dal Lake is decorated with BJP buntings, posters and pictures of PM Narendra Modi. The road leading from Boulevard to Gupkar residence of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is also dotted with BJP buntings and Modi’s pictures. Even outside Omar’s residence, Modi’s pictures and BJP’s buntings were visible in between NC buntings and posters of Omar.
“It signifies a change,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst and former Head of the Department of Political Sciences in University of Kashmir.
He attributed this change to the lack of development in Srinagar, anti-incumbency factor and involvement of lot of parties and groups in the polls. “Besides, people are fed up of separatism and want development of their areas, which have been neglected by the government.”
Baba said the voter turnout in Srinagar this time may definitely be on the higher side than previous elections as mainstream politicians have been saying that the Assembly polls are not linked to Kashmir issue but are about day-to-day issues of the people.
A brother of former militant commander in Srinagar said he and other people in downtown, who have been boycotting elections, will vote this time.
“The downtown has been neglected and its people, especially youth harassed by the NC-Congress coalition government by lodging hundreds of cases against them for their alleged involvement in stone pelting. We will vote for the party that will withdraw the cases against youth and give them a chance to live a life without harassment from police,” he said.
After 2010 unrest in Kashmir during which over 120 people, mostly youth, were killed in police and paramilitary forces action, Omar Abdullah government registered over 5000 cases against 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 but cases against hundreds of youth have not been withdrawn and they are entangled in legal battles.
The leaders of opposition PDP and candidates of some other parties have been announcing in public campaigns that if voted to power, party will withdraw cases against the youth.