Kashmir's only woman minister faces flak for using the Quran to get votes

Srinagar:  In Kashmir’s traditional political lexicon the Quran, Islam’s holy book- has been used, time and again, to buy allegiances during election campaigning, sometimes even to switch loyalties. Though it is nothing new in Kashmir but no one, until now, had been caught on camera in the act.

Ambitious political leaders would force people in rural areas of Kashmir to take vows to vote for them with their hands on the Quran, but always behind closed doors.

But now, a three-minute-long video of Social Welfare minister Sakina Itoo, has gone viral on social networking sites. The video shows the only woman minister in Omar Abdullah’s government and her workers forcing Gul Mohd Malik, a resident of Ringth in Noorabad South Kashmir, to swear that he would support her party in the coming election and vote for her.

Malik, a supporter of Itoo’s now deceased father, is seen being forced to make the promise, though he responds with vehemence that Quran is meant for recitation and not to take vows on. But the minister, Itoo, is seen grabbing the hand of the Malik compelling him to take the vow.

The video showing Sakina Ittoo allegedly seeking the man vow to vote for her. Image courtesy Facebook

The video showing Sakina Ittoo allegedly seeking the man vow to vote for her. Image courtesy Facebook

The video has generated considerable anger among the citizens in valley, and sparked a debate on whether religions books should be used for buying loyalties during elections.

“Recite Kalima. Take the Holy Quran in your hands and swear that you will support Sakina Itoo,” one of the workers, who is not visible, directs the old man who repeatedly refuses.

The old man seems to be an important figure, whose support the National Conference needs very badly from the once militancy affected Noorabad constituency in South Kashmir, where Itoo is a sitting legislator.

“Recite the ‘Kalima Toiba’- Hazrat Muhammad is messenger of Allah- and take a pledge that you will support me,” Sakina Itoo repeatedly tells the old man, while holding his hand.

Since the video was uploaded thousands of people have re-posted it online ridiculing the minister for using the Quran as a means to garner votes. It seems for the minister, who is facing anti-incumbency in her constituency, the Quran has become the only resort to change the minds of voters.

Ittoo, in her early forties, is a National Conference (NC) leader who has survived over a dozen assassination attempts in her political career but has continued to be in politics.

In one such attempt on 10 July, 2006 five people were killed, including a former NC MLA Ghulam Nabi Dar, and 41 others were injured, including Ittoo.

She entered politics after militants killed her father Wali Mohammad Ittoo, a former Assembly Speaker and a senior NC leader, in 1994. Ittoo quit her medical studies mid-way and managed a maiden victory from her father's constituency, Noorabad, in the 1996 Assembly polls.

But her actions caught on tape have cornered the ruling National Conference ahead of the two crucial elections slated for this year.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah defended her in a tweet saying, “I’ve spoken to Sakina, this video was taken months before the election code. She isn’t threatening anyone, she isn’t abusing anyone.”

But he didn't explain why she was using the Quran to ensure votes.

The National Conference Spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu while defending the minister said that there was nothing wrong what Itoo had done. He claimed it was part of Kashmiri culture and there was no violation of the Model Code of Conduct despite what the opposition PDP may claim.

“We don’t believe she has done anything wrong. It is part of vernacular in Kashmir. There are much more bigger issues to be focused on. If PDP wants to focus on this issue let them. This video was taken months back before the code of conduct came into force. She is not forcing him to do anything,” Mattu told Firstpost.

But the People Democratic Party doesn’t seem to be buying the argument. They allege that the NC leader has violated the election code of conduct and desperate leaders of the National Conference, feeling the heat of public anger due to failure to provide good governance, are using religion to exploit people.

“Can you ask a men a to take oath on Quran and vote. It shows the deep frustration of the National Conference leaders because they know they have lost the people's faith,.” PDP spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar said.

He may have a point. The question isn't whether the video is old or new, but about using a religious text as a means to ensure people vote for a party. Only Ittoo can reveal the need to use the religious text if the promised good governance was delivered. For the movement, she doesn’t want to answer any questions.

Updated Date: Mar 31, 2014 09:52 AM

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