Festive mood in Bandipora, repeat of 2008 on cards

The GulshanChowk has been a symbol of separatist resistance in this north Kashmir district post 1990s. Also known as heart of Bandipora, it would, in the past, remain under focus of men-in-uniform to curb any pro-freedom protest or any anti-election program.
Today, amid poll times in Kashmir, the Chowk is draped in all political colors –red, green, saffron and blue. With first phase of 5-phased Assembly polls in JK set to begin in this district in 2 days, this constituency presents a festive look.
Buntings and banners of different political parties, hanging in the business hub of the town, catches attention of every passerby. The colorful scene becomes more live in narrow lanes and interiors of the constituency.
“I am witnessing this kind of poll activity here after more than 25 years,” said an elderly who identified himself as Muhammad Maqbool. “Yes, large number of people are
attending political rallies but it is different thing whether they will vote or not,” he said.
A vehicle fitted with loudspeaker atop it passes through main town after every 10-15 minutes with a voice asking people to vote for “their” candidate. With today being the last day of campaigning here, the poll activities have picked up from early morning amid biting cold in wintry Kashmir.
For young Amir Hussain, a shopkeeper, the “brisk” poll campaigning going on here for past fortnight has been a “surprise”.
“There is lot of enthusiasm among people,” said 24-year old Hussain. In 2008 when Assembly elections were held in J&K soon after 60 civilians were killed in Kashmir during agitation over transfer of State forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board, Bandipora, which first went to polls, registered over 45 percent voting, setting the tone for the entire election process. That time, among other factors, participation of the highest number of candidates in elections in the Valley contributed to high polling percentage.
This election, there are 13 candidates in fray from the constituency having total electorate of 98375. But the race to enter the state legislature is realistically limited between the sitting MLA of Peoples Democratic Party, Nizam-ud-Din Bhat, and Congress candidate and former legislator UsmaanMajeed. Observers have predicted a neck-to-neck contest between the two candidates.
Given the poll activities the constituency is witnessing, the election boycott seems to have lesser takers here unless the constituency throws up a last minute surprise.
The District Election Officer, Shah Faisal, said the “election mood is unprecedented” in the entire district comprising of Bandipora, Sonawari and Gurez constituencies. He claimed that the Election Commission of India has contributed to “create awareness” among voters.
But there have been other “contributing factors” too. A senior official said “crackdown on potential trouble-creating youth” in the constituency and arrest of top separatist leaders to prevent them from running poll boycott campaign has helped authorities to keep the situation under control.