Budgam turns from responsive electoral pocket to epicentre of defiance

Ever since the electoral politics regained ground in Kashmir after 1996, seven years after the outbreak of armed insurgency, the central Kashmir’s Budgam district was one of the most receptive pockets in Kashmir for the democratic process.
For every election, be it for the Assembly or Parliament, long queues were seen in the district, especially at Chrar-e-Sharif, the area that defied separatists’ poll boycott call long ago.
Cut to 2017. The response at Chrar-e-Sharief and other pockets of the central district, including Chadoora and Beerwah, to the parliamentary by election had drastically changed. Instead of long queues of voters, there were defiant youngsters, armed with stones and anger, targeting poll staff and security personnel. They invaded polling booths and forced the staff to pack up.
On Sunday, over 300 incidents of violence at Budgam district left seven protesters dead. Out of the seven, three were killed in the Beerwah constituency, and two each in Chrar and Chadoora.
Muhammad Yousuf, a resident of Beerwah, said Budgam district echoed the sentiment prevailing across the Valley, especially in south Kashmir, that borders the district. During the unrest in 2016 triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, at least seven persons were killed in Budgam district.
The latest provocation in the district was the encounter at Darbugh village in Chadoora, where three protesters were killed in clashes with security forces at an encounter site. “The Chadoora area remained shut for at least four days after the encounter,” said Bashir Ahmad, a local resident. “Angry about the killings, people wanted to take revenge, and they showed their resentment at the first opportunity they got by defying the elections,” he said.
The other factor, locals said, was the ‘influence’ of a senior militant from the area, Yasin Yatoo, who has emerged as one of the top militants in the Valley. Yatoo operates mostly in south Kashmir’s Kulgam, but youth of his locality are influenced by him.
“The militant from Kulgam who was killed in the Chadoora encounter last week was Yatoo’s confidant. It is because of this association that youth thronged the encounter site to help him escape, though unsuccessfully,” said a resident of Chadoora.
Peoples Democratic Front president and MLA Khansahib Hakim said the time had come for mainstream parties to introspect.
“Even during the 1990s when militancy was at its peak and elections were held, never ever was there this kind of situation. It is the right time for the secular forces in the state to introspect and see what has led to this situation, where youth of Kashmir are out on the streets for a rebellion,” Hakim said.
A police officer said the violence was expected in the district after the killing of three civilians in Chadoora. “The civilian killings triggered anger and it was visible on the streets of the district on Sunday,” said the police officer, not wishing to be named.

Votes polled in district

Chadoora               602
Budgam                 13,276
Beerwah                13,625
Khan Sahab           9,492
Chrar-e-Sharief    3,293