Lone Saju sends a report from the frontier district of Kupwara on what ails the region and why people vote
Full of scenic beauty, dense forests, meadows, water bodies and huge open fields, Kupwara district lies near the Line of Control. Kupwara has a population of 875,564 and half of the population is settled at high altitudes.
Besides its natural beauty, Kupwara depicts backwardness both social and economic. In the age of information and technology, few of its areas still have no access to modern things.
Madwah, a remote village of Langate, Kupwara got electricity connection first time on March 25, 2019.
Most of the people of this region depend on agriculture and horticulture to earn their livelihood. Once known as the hotbed for militancy, Kiupwara is now turning into a battleground among the politicians. When there is decline in voting in rest of the Valley, Kupwara set record for voting turnout.
In the recently held parliamentary polls, the district saw huge political gatherings, road shows and rallies unlikely Bandipora and Baramulla district. The Baramulla parliamentary constituency is spread over three districts including, Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora and comprises of 15 assembly segments.
Among them, Kupwara district witnessed the highest turnout of 51.7 percent followed by a killing of a minor boy during clashes at Kralgund of Langate area. Despite a boycott call given by separatists, long queues were seen outside the polling stations. In Kupwara district, boycott call was less effective and people voted in huge numbers.
Hakim Din, who hails from Satkochi village of Handwara but works 25 km away from home, has grown old but still has shiny black hair and beard. He travelled 25 km to cast his vote.
“We belong to a remote area. We have been always ignored but since Sajad Lone become the minister, we have been accepted as human beings. Before that, we were deprived. Now we got water, electricity and better connectivity,” he says.
With the fear of boycott, the parties were conducting back to back mass contact programmes to not run up against anticipated public anger. At the same time, it was difficult for them to hold roadshows and to conduct rallies outside the Kupwara district due to which they preferred to spend more and more time in Kupwara. Independent candidate Engineer Rashid was seen conducting road shows and meetings in volatile areas of Sopore and Baramulla.
A former militant, now a sarpanch, Showkat Pandit from Unisoo village of Langate says, “I was a militant and I was against mainstream politicians. That’s why I took up arms in the 90s for the resolution of Kashmir issue but I was arrested in 1997. For me, mainstream politicians were always opportunists but since I found Rashid in the mainstream, my thoughts changed and in 2009 I joined Rashid.”
Mumtaz Ahmad from Karnah says, I voted for the first time and I voted for Rashid because I believe he would bring a change. Handwara constituency recorded the highest turnout of 62.12% & its AmargadBala polling station of Handwara recorded highest turnout of 86.22%, &while Trech polling station of Handwara constituency recorded the lowest turnout of 6.69% . Only 55 votes were cast in Trech polling station out of 822.
Among all the segments of Kupwara district, Langate constituency witnessed the lowest turnout of 35.52 percent. Many people believe that the situation in Langate remained disturbed for the past few months with Langate witnessing a few encounters including the longest gunfight of four days in which huge property was lost in Babagund village.
Besides, three local militants from Langate constituency were also gunned down in the past few months. However, Rashid can be seen meeting people of his constituency without any security and fear. Although nine candidates were in the fray, the main contest was between the ultimate winner Mohammad Akbar Lone of National Conference, Rashid and Raja Aijaz of Peoples Conference. The PDP parliamentary candidate Abdul Qayoom Wani was out of the race as the PDP’s public support came down after the collapse of PDP-BJP coalition in the State.
There were a total of 13,12,148 voters and 1749 polling station in the Baramulla parliamentary constituency and among them, 4,51,508 exercised their franchise that is 35.50 percent voting. Among the three districts, Kupwara recorded the highest turnout of 51.7 percent. District Kupwara comprises five assembly segments including Kupwara, Lolab, Karnah, Handwara and Langate. Earlier, Kupwara and Lolab were won by PDP and Handwara and Kupwara by PC and Langate by Rashid.
There were two ministers and one Rajya Sabha member from Kupwara in the previous government but hardly anything changed on the ground. In education, health, education and development, Kupwara district possesses very poor service to its people. Sajad Lone’s Handwara is receiving two-hour electricity.
Hampora village of Rashid’s constituency is without water for decades. In Raja Manzoor’s Karnah, people are dying under avalanches and have no access to a tunnel. Bashir Dar’s Kupwara possesses a poor health service, and Abdul Haq Khan’s Lolab is still waiting for connectivity between Lolab to Bandipora.
In the overall development, Kupwara district passes through a very tough and poor report card. Recently, a newborn died after the mother was forced to deliver her baby by the roadside. She first went to the local hospital of Kalaroos on cot as the snow was not cleared from roads. After reaching D H Kupwara, she was referred to Srinagar.
Kupwara district hospital possesses very poor service. Every year they refer around 5000 patients to Srinagar due to poor infrastructure and shortage of doctors. In 2017-18 Kupwara district hospital referred 4027 patients to Srinagar and in 2018-19, 3938 patients. The situation is same in the entire district. Every year people die under avalanches. For many years people have been demanding a tunnel in the area but in vain.
Students miss exams while patients suffer because of no access to the tunnel. “We empower someone for the development of Karnah but every time their six-year tenure ends, nothing happens,” says Khushal Khaja, a student from Karnah. In the age of information technology, schools in Kupwara district are craving for basic necessities like potable water, washrooms, playgrounds and other sports equipment, leaving students at the mercy of nature.
Several villages in Kupwara district still do not have access to clean drinking water. A resident from Hampora village says the village has no access to drinking water from many decades and local women have to fetch water from wells and streams of other villages. Few days back people from Sajad Lone’s home town blocked the highway against PDD.
The locals said they had been compelled to hit the streets as the department failed to provide them adequate electricity and they got just one-hour power supply every 24 hours. The miseries of people of Kupwara do not end here. The district has very poor connectivity. Travelling on the roads of Kupwara district has become nuisance for the commuters as the roads there are in shambles.
Everywhere in the world people cast their vote to for development, better healthcare services and education but Kupwara district is far behind in these aspects. The question then is what made Kupwara vote.