Exactly 15 years ago, the summer in Kargil’s Drass area witnessed occupied peaks and incessant shelling from Pakistan. Today, it was a battleground for a different reason: to strengthen the roots of democracy peacefully and with greater enthusiasm.
Haji Shafi, a known political figure and an aged voter of Drass, epitomised the poll mood in Drass on Wednesday. Shafi, who heads a family of 12, went to the Drass polling booth to have an indelible ink on the fingers of all the family members.
“My wife, six sons, two daughters, two daughter-in-laws cast votes today. It was a vote for democracy,” Shafi, in his late 70s, told Hindustan Times.
Drass bears the marks of the 1999 Kargil war. A stone-stacked roadside bunker securing the Drass-Kargil highway is still intact.
“The shelling from Pakistan was so intense on Drass that our family migrated 150 km away from the area for two-and-a-half-month,” recalled Shafi.
Does the Kargil war fear lurk on their minds and stopped Drass residents from casting vote? “No,” replied Shafi. “We have been living with a sense of fear since 1947. It’s nothing new. We have faith in our troops who regained the Drass peaks and pushed Pakistan back. When residents voted today, there was no sense of fear,” he added.
In 1999, the area was a battleground where the troops fought fierce battle to regain the peaks of Batalik and Drass. Pakistan stands just 50 to 100 km away from Drass. Pakistan peaks still have an advantage of height. “However, there has been no untoward incident since then (1999),” said Shafi.
However, several residents live will with one grievance. “We were not compensated fully for the war. Our cattle, including cows, horses etc, perished in the war. Till date, we have not been compensated,” claimed Shafi.
Drass in Kargil assembly segment of Ladakh parliament constituency voted in droves. By noon, 49 percent of voters in Kargil and Drass were out in pleasant weather to cast votes and return home to start their day as early as possible.
“There is a need to strengthen democracy. Drass has borne the fruit of democracy,” said Muhktar Khan, a young voter. A number of locals have been absorbed in the army and other security agencies from the area.
Drass at 10,990 feet above the sea level, whose residents brave weather vagaries in winters when temperature goes down to minus 45 degree Celsius, is home to around 30,000 souls with achievable demands. The population density remains sparse at 10 inhabitants per square kilometre.
“We look for round-the-year connectivity with the outside world. We are cut-off for six months from the valley,” said Arif Ahmad, a voter.
Communication, better road connectivity and tourism remain major demanded of all the voters who came out to vote today.