Around noon on Saturday, three young men gathered at a political meeting organised by the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) party in Pulwama town on Saturday.
The police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) monitor the road leading to the party meeting venue. At the entrance of the lane leading to the party office, a group of police officers frisk people coming to the meeting. After that, two other officers frisk them as they pass through the metal detectors. While the streets mark no indication of the political rally, with no posters, flags and loud announcements, the party flags with plough symbol painted white on red colour clothes, adorn the meeting area.
JKNC’s Anantnag Lok Sabha candidate Hasnain Masoodi, a former high court judge; its party leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah among others, were to attend the meeting organised at the party office. Masoodi, while holding office, delivered a landmark judgment in 2015 on Article 370 that accorded special status to the state of J&K.
The three men are not party followers, nor are they associates of the party. They attended the rally to see what the party leaders had to promise. With police enforcing internet ban with an encounter killing in the neighbouring Shopian district on May 3, holding their mobile phones in hand, all the three eagerly await for former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to speak.
Jammu and Kashmir police arresting villagers at midnight, Indian Army harassing them with constant surveillance, frequent internet bans were the issues on their mind. The youngsters were not ready to cast vote unless and until the political leaders promised something realistic.
Rest of the crowd in the meeting were Gujjars from Sonabanjar who were brought in by the local leaders. Not many from the town participated. Not a single woman was present.
“We fear to go to college in the morning. We worry who will bomb where and how many times the police will question us on the streets,” one of the three young men, MR Jeelani, said.
“Even if we go from one locality to another in the same area to visit our relatives, the police question us and ask us why we are gathered at a particular place. Can’t we move freely in our town?” he asks.
Another participant, Gulam Mohammad, a farm labourer says he will cast vote as he fears police brutality will increase with no government in force in the state. “Why can’t the keep the Army to the borders and let us live peacefully? If they do, no outsider will attack us and no insider will turn a militant,” he says.
In an hour, Omar Abdullah arrives with his Z+ security. As he sits on the dais along with other leaders, his eyes hover around the flight above while he keeps a check on the surrounding.
Soon after, addressing the gathering of around 300 people, Omar promises to abolish the Jammu and Kahsmir Public Safety Act (PSA) under which the police arrest many youngsters in Kashmir. He further promises to review cases against the youth accused of throwing stones (during law and order situations). All this, if only the party gets elected in the next Assembly elections (Not the ongoing Lok Sabha election for which he’s campaigning) as PSA is a state subject.
The Act enables the government and the police to detain anyone who promotes, propagates or attempts to create a feeling of enmity or hatred in the region. The police allegedly misuse the Act to arrests youths in Kashmir.
And he further takes a dig at the Anantnag People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Candidate Mehbooba Mufti, whose party allegedly stopped holding meetings in Pulwama, four days ahead of elections.
As the party leader appeals to voters to go out and vote and not be silent, it remains to be seen what they do.
Pulwama and Shopian — part of Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency — go to polls on May 6.