In Abdullah's bastion, faith in shrine pushes poll percentage to highest 38 pc by 3pm

  • Peerzada Ashiq, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Apr 30, 2014 17:03 IST

In chief minister Omar Abdullah's traditional bastion Ganderbal, it's the faith in a Sufi shrine and not faith in National Conference's politics that pushed voter percentage as Srinagar parliamentary seat went to polls on Wednesday.

Perched over the foothill, the shrine of the Hazrat Baba Jee Sahib Larwi at Kangan's Baba Nagri area, a name owing its existence to the Sufi saint, was central to draw voters in droves to polling booths. More than 60,000 faithfuls visit the shrine in June every year at Kangan, 90 km away from Srinagar.

"I have come as this shrine keeps all evils away from us. I owe my kids, good crops and the health of cattle to the shrine. Thus, my vote goes to (National Conference) Mian Altaf sahib," said Nazeer Khatana, a 66-year-old voter from Gujjar community, at Baba Nagri. Khatana trekked down a long stretch of a hill to see himself in the serpentine queues that dotted polling booths in the area.

By 3 pm, Kangan had already witnessed 57 percent polling, highest for any assembly segment in the Srinagar parliament constituency. However, Kangan's main market witnessed minor pro-separatist and anti-India protests.

Baba Nagri's Gujjar community has been loyal to the Sufi saint's family for generations now. The saint's grand grandson Mian Altaf, a minister with the NC government, benefited this time again for the reverence people have towards the shrine and not for Abdullah's politics.

"The NC has been very biased towards a particular community in Kangan. The tenders for timber, rocks and other development works go to only cronies of the NC. They have grown rich over the years," said Nazeer Ahmad, a Kashmiri-speaking at Kangan market area, who for a change voted for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Once a bastion of Abdullah's, Ganderbal, where all the three generations of Abdullah's ---- from NC founder Sheikh Muhammaf Abdullah, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and present chief minister Omar Abdullah --- owed their political existence in the state assembly, remained sharply divided between the NC and the PDP.

"We want the NC out of power now. This government is responsible for all the miseries in the state. We lost so many youth during the junior Abdullah's tenure," said Nazeer Ahmad, a 35-year-old voter at Wayul area.

As one moved closer to Srinagar from Kangan, extreme end of Srinagar constituency, impact of separatism was visible. Tumulla area, which houses the important temple of Hindus, Khir Bhawani, wore a deserted look at the polling booths.

There were incidents of stone throwing at several locations there. Violent protests also broke at Lar and Saloora areas. The police used force to disperse separatist supporters trying to enforce a poll boycott. A voter on bike also came under attack from roadside protesters in Ganderbal.

However, several PDP-dominated pockets did come out to vote to defeat NC's Farooq Abdullah. PDP leader from Lar, Qazi Afzal, also a former minister, came out to vote. "People are fed up with Abdullah's. These polls will prove how much," said Afzal.

Despite protests, threats to voters and separatists boycott call, Ganderbal posted decent poll percentage of 38.77 by 3pm, with many voters queued up at polling booths. The areas closer to Srinagar, however, remained indifferent to the polls once again.

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