In what is a clear sign of the shrinking space for mainstream politics in Kashmir, scores of political workers have left their homes and taken refuge in well-guarded hotels in Srinagar.
Most of these political workers are from South Kashmir – Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian – that has emerged as the epicentre of the present uprising in Kashmir.
Those who managed to escape the hostility in the Valley include political workers of all parties, former counter-insurgents called Ikhwanis, polling agents and many ex-sarpanchs. Most of them have fled their native places along with their families. Some have even brought along their children.
Majority of these people have been housed in government hostels and hotels in Rajbagh, Indira Nagar, Sanat Nagar and Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir.
Most of the workers have been relocated to Indira Nagar near BB Cantt, as it is considered a safe place due to its proximity to the 15 corps headquarter in the city. Firstpost met with dozens of these workers at different hotels across Srinagar.
Most of these hotels and guest-houses are guarded by the CRPF. At one such hotel, a CRPF soldier stood guard inside a bunker close to the gate. He carefully crags his neck out before allowing visitors inside. After checking ID cards, the visitors are allowed to enter. Inside, cheers from children playing with broken plastic toys is the first thing one notices.
The elders, seemingly freighted, are huddled inside small rooms staring at every visitor in bewilderment.
Most of them have spent more than 30 days in guarded environs hoping for the situation to normalise. Most of them want to go back to their homes. Mansoor Khan, 43, is one of them.
A resident of Homeshalibug in Kulgam, he would arrange crowds for political rallies and mobilise voters for politicians of all hues.
Most politicians would bank on him for successful rallies. Three weeks back, a protest rally that left scores injured after clashes with the paramilitary soldiers, saw angry protesters slowly limping towards his house. Khan said that he thought that his angry neighbours, part of the rally, would try to torch his house.
"I was frightened," he said. "My two kids thought all of us were going to die." But, he said, the village head came to their rescue.
"Next day at dawn, we fled to Srinagar," Khan said, staying at a rundown hotel in Srinagar’s Indra Nagar locality. "We abandoned our house as the anger is rising against all politicians and their supporters."
In between deep puffs of a cigarette, Khan said that it would be a miracle if the protesters didn’t burn his house down. Mainstream politics, Khan adds, is a ‘curse’ in the valley for now as people look down upon political workers.
“The very idea of supporting pro-India politics in the valley is fraught with not just risks but also social exclusion,’’ said Abdul Hamid, 37, a resident of Anantnag who is camping in a hotel along with his children in the Raj Bagh locality.
Hamid is a post-graduate in Sociology from Kashmir University. When he failed to find a government job, he started working with a politician taking care of his appointment and liaising with workers.
“Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, despite being a towering personality, still has a guard at his grave,’’ Hamid said. "Mufti (Sahib) Mohammad Sayeed, now has a police post guarding his grave, as well."
The hotel, where Hamid has taken shelter, is full of small time political workers, polling agents of different political parties, and those who have helped politicians garner votes in the five districts of South Kashmir.
Last month, protesters set ablaze the security guard room and a motorcycle of ruling PDP MLA Mohammad Yousuf Bhat in Shopian. Bhat, who is the chief whip of PDP in the Assembly, and his family were not present in the house at the time of the attack. A large number of people attacked Bhat's house after the police raided several houses in Meemandar locality the previous night, a police official said.
The house of a PDP Rajya Sabha member, Nazir Laway, was attacked on Wednesday in the Chawalgam area of Kulgam. The mob also torched the police picket on the front side of the compound and allegedly decamped with four service rifles of the policemen guarding the house.
The incident set alarm bells ringing and Khan was joined by hoards of others from his district, who also fled the comfort of their homes. The story is the same in almost every hotel the state government has rented.
"It is always a Sarpanch, a polling agent, or a small worker who is killed by militants, or beaten by protesters, never say a minister or an MLA," Tariq Ahmad, a political worker from Puwlama, said.
The Kashmir valley has been on an edge ever since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on 8 July. The death of an 18-year-old student at the Nadihal village on Wednesday has pushed Kashmir to the brink. At least, 70 civilians have been killed so far and more than ten thousand injured – with 3,812 people hit by pellets, 547 by bullets and 2,343 by tear gas shells (as of 28 August) – and the prospect of normalcy returning to the streets seems to be a distant dream.