On Wednesday, residents of the Inderkoot village in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district say they “took matters into their own hands”. As the second phase of polling for the municipal committee began at 6 in the morning, residents thronged the polling station half an hour earlier.
Ahead of the municipal elections, residents of the village gathered to discuss the prospects of fielding their “own people” as candidates who are expected to “work for their own people”. Several residents finally managed to convince two other local residents to contest the elections.
“We have been ignored by repeated governments,” said Ghulam Hassan Dar, a farmer in his 50s. “We are here against those who wanted to win unopposed or with a few votes. We decided to put up our own candidates against these opportunists.”
Inside the polling station, the village’s government-run middle school, men and women jostled in long queues to cast their vote at 1 pm. One middle-aged voter licked his index finger immediately after leaving the booth, to remove the ink stains. But it wasn’t for the fear of being identified as a voter by militant sympathisers. “I have to cast another vote,” he said, smiling.
By late afternoon, the queues had thinned but votes were still being cast in greater numbers than other stations in the Valley. Fear of separatist backlash, however, was palpable. Local residents did not want to be photographed or speak to the press. Of those who did, many were reluctant divulge their identities.
Heavy deployments of security forces – the army, the Border Security Force, and the local police – surrounded the polling station but the only difficulty that they faced there, as per one policeman, was shooing away children running amok in the school’s lawns. At the end of the polling, the Sumbal municipal committee, under which Inderkoot falls, saw the highest voter turnout, at about 35.64 percent, in the Kashmir region.
Local residents said that the lack of basic amenities in the village and the failures of previous administrations compelled the local residents of Inderkoot to participate despite boycott calls by Kashmiri separatists and militant threats. Besides, this was an opportunity to break free from the clutches of politicians who, as one villager described habitually broke promises.
The official boycott of the polls by the states regional unionist parties paved the way for first-time candidates like Ali Mohammad Parray, one of the two that residents of Inderkoot had convinced to contest the elections for Ward No. 11 of Inderkoot. As the polling continued, Parray stood inside the polling station.
In his early 30s, Parray has a doctorate degree in pharmacology from the University of Mumbai. Aspiring for a government job and unable to find one, Parray felt contesting the elections would help him work for the people and to prevent a waste of resources that were already scarce.
Outside the polling station, residents spoke of the threat of the Bharatiya Janata Party coming to power. “We don’t want the BJP here,” said Dar as other residents, gathered around him, agreed. “If we don’t elect our own ward heads, someone from the outside would have taken over. We do not want to bend before them.”
At this point, a young man, part of the gathering, interrupted Dar. “They have made a sacrifice for the community,” he said of the two independent candidates that the village collectively pushed to contest elections. “We have long been ignored. We are only a few kilometres from the town but we do not have water in our homes, we have produce in our fields but no roads to transport it.”
In another locality in Inderkoot, however, the enthusiasm for the polls was not as high. Residents said that they were still unaware of candidates contesting in their ward even as polling continued. “We do not support the elections,” said a young man, adding that it was only the neighbouring locality, populated by a different sect of Muslims, which supported elections.
Other residents, more aware of the happenings in the village, said that it was only the National Conference that stayed away from the polls. For Ward No. 9, two contestants are known to be members of the People’s Democratic Party while one each, residents believe, are part of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.
The elections to local bodies, Dar said, was a matter of local necessities and did not affect the politics of the state. As such, taking control of their own affairs meant “choosing their own interests over those of politicians” and a hope of better days ahead. “If our candidates win,” said Dar, “it will be the poor man’s rule. We are hoping for that.”
Updated Date: Oct 10, 2018 20:04 PM