Hectic electioneering at Ground Zero of agitation sparked by Burhan Wani killing in 2016


Damhal Hanjipora (Kashmir): On July 9, 2016, a mob attacked the Damhal Hanjipora police station and looted arms and ammunition in response to the killing of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces the day before. It triggered weeks of violent protests that left more than 100 dead and put this place in global focus.

But on Thursday, the sounds and sights of democracy drowned out the echoes of its tumultus past as National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah embarked on a campaign like no other.

The electioneering was intense despite a scorching summer day: thousands of National Conference workers and supporters turning up at the rally in traditional attire amid rhythmic beats of drums, raising slogans and showering love on their leader.

The villagers, including women, accorded a jubilant reception to Abdullah and other party leaders including the NC’s Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat candidate Mia Altaf, provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani, Abdullah’s political advisor Tanvir Sadiq and former minister Sakeena Itoo.

Abdullah acknowledged their affection as he began his impassioned address.

“I am thankful to the people for joining the rally despite scorching heat,” he told the crowd. “Your passion and love for the National Conference remind me of our party founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who had ruled over the hearts of the people.”

“I take a pledge to fulfill all the dreams of my grandfather for the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Abdullah said, seeking people’s support for Mian Altaf, a former minister and an influential Gujjar leader.

The town lies in the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat which goes to poll in the sixth phase on May 25. This rally marked the end of an extended campaigning in the seat where 20 candidates are in the fray.

Mian Altaf who is facing a major challenge from PDP president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and Apni Party’s Zafar Iqbal Khan Manhas who is backed by the BJP.

Abdullah reminisced about the events of 2015 when, despite losing the majority, he pledged unwavering support to the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s government.

“In 2015, we came forward with an unconditional offer to the PDP with the sole motive to keep the BJP out of power. But our sincere effort was declined and the PDP chose BJP. The rest is history,” Abdullah said.

Questioning Mehbooba Mufti’s claim of being associated with INDIA bloc on the basis of ideology, the NC leader said she did not attend a single election rally in favour of Congress candidates from Udhampur and Jammu Lok Sabha seats, while “we attended rallies in almost all parts including Udhampur, Kishtwar, Ramban, Doda, Jammu and Samba”.

The July 9, 2016 attack on the police station triggered a wave of violent protests across the Valley, claiming over 100 lives and leaving scores of others injured. The National Conference rally was held in the vicinity of the police station, marking the change in the ground situation with people reposing their faith in democracy.

As Abdullah started leaving, scores of women presented ‘Wanwun’ (traditional folk songs) praising the National Conference and the party leadership.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the rally, Abdullah expressed hope of seeing a new prime minister taking oath in the country with the results of the Lok Sabha elections coming out on June 4.

“The BJP is frustrated which is evident from the statements of the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi). He is now saying he never made any remark against Muslims…

Whenever they held any rally, except targeting Muslims, they did nothing. Now Insha Allah (God willing), they will get the answer from the public and a new Prime Minister will be elected after June 4,” he said.

On the elections here being deferred from May 7 to May 25, Abdullah said the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat has witnessed a long campaigning, more than what was needed for canvassing.

“First, the election should not have been postponed but it was done on the pretext of weather. (Actually) it was only done to provide an opportunity to home minister (Amit Shah) to come here (Kashmir). What was supposed to happen happened and now it is time to vote on May 25,” the NC leader said, requesting people to vote in large numbers in favour of the party candidate.

On unconfirmed reports that a particular party is using money power to buy votes in south of Pir Panjal (Rajouri and Poonch), he asked people to share the video if they have “so that we can take up the issue with the Election Commission”.

“If they had so much money, they should give it to us as we are a poor party and we can utilise it in a better way.

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