Sixty-five-year-old Abdul Gafar Wagay had never thought that contesting elections will take away his individual liberty and land him in a security enclosure where he is literally treated like a “prisoner”.
Less than 10 days before the final phase of local elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the opposition candidates are alleging that they have been confined to security enclosures and not allowed to campaign.
At a highly guarded accommodation facility near Pampore in Pulwama district, at least 40 candidates have been sequestered.
Like Mr Wagay, there are dozens of candidates from Pulwama and Shopian districts who allege that the campaign of opposition candidates is being scuttled in the name security and only BJP candidates are being facilitated by the authorities.
“We have filed nomination papers to serve people. If this election is for people then why we have been detained here? There 30 to 40 people with me who have been detained here. police are harassing us. They are not allowing us to go out. Look at my condition,” said Mr Wagay.
On the other end of the spectrum is Javid Ahmad, a BJP candidate, who is carrying out a door-to-door campaign in Shopian. He is escorted by heavily armed police guards. In the absence of an opposition campaign, Mr Ahmad is confident that he will win this election in a place otherwise considered a strong bastion of the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference.
“Gupkar Alliance is nowhere in on the ground. BJP is going home-to-home because we are working on the ground. BJP will win and all the 14 seats in Shopian,” said Javid Ahmad Qadri.
Opposition leaders Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti allege that non-BJP leaders are not allowed to campaign and accused the BJP of misusing official machinery.
A senior officer said the candidates have been kept in protected accommodations only for their security.” We have kept them in these accommodations for their security. There is no restriction on their movement. They are free to campaign.” the officer said.
In Pampore, a frail 80-year-old Abdul Rahim Nadaf is begging for his release from the well-guarded accommodation. He said he just wants to go back home and can’t live like this when he can’t go out to buy medicine.
“For God’s sake, please allow me to go home. I want to live or die at my home. I don’t have money to buy medicine,” he said.
At the same accommodation facility, an independent candidate, however, said that she was being allowed to campaign.
“I’m thankful to Dysp, SSP and other officers. Whenever I call them, they attend our phone. I have never faced any difficulty,” she said.
But Mansha Jan, a candidate for district development council elections for Pulwama is worried. She said while her opponent is being allowed to campaign, she has been kept in the security enclosure and not allowed to step out.
“They are not allowing me. They tell us to stay here..I’m not being allowed to go out. They say you are not permitted. They ask to wait for two days, three days. How can we contest in this situation?” she said.
“My opponent is being allowed. But they don’t let me campaign,” said Ms Jan.
In North Srinagar, the situation is somewhat different in Ganderbal district. Although the election campaign is subdued, the complaint of the enforced lockdown of opposition candidates is not widespread.
At Nunar village, Avatar Krishan Bhat is seeking divine blessings to win the elections for panchayat seat. It’s the second time that a Kashmiri Pandit is contesting panchayat elections in a Muslim dominated village.
The 60-year-old National Conference member wants development of the village and also to retrieve a patch of land grabbed by land grabbers in the village. Mr Bhat is confident of his victory. The locals say they voted for him way back in 2011 and will vote for him again.
“We have been together and we will remain together. We are like brothers. Pandits and Muslims visit each other’s home and eat together. There is no difference. They all will vote for me,” said Mr Bhat.
Just three Kashmiri Pandit families live in Nunar village but Mr Bhat is not scared. He does not want any police protection either. “I don’t need any security. My neighbours and people of this village are my security,” he said.
His neighbour Nisar Ahmad, another candidate for the panchayat elections said he will withdraw if the government tries to thrust security on him and confine him to any security enclosure.
“I will withdraw my nomination papers if they try to keep me in a security camp. People are my security. How can I serve in the village if I’m kept under security,” he said.