National

Flood-hit Kashmir village redoubles call for freedom

Locals of Arigutan village in South Kashmir's Kulgam district sort out their belongings from their ravaged home on Sunday. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Abdul Ghani Bhat and nearly 2,000 others in Arigutan village, two km from Kulgam town and abutting the Pir Panjal mountain range, ran for their lives when they noticed the nearby Vishu stream swelling alarmingly on the evening of September 5. Mr. Bhat and his family ran up the hills, where they spent the first 24 hours in the open, drenched in heavy rain, before managing to reach a school; nearly 600 people crammed into it for four days.

When they returned, the village had been wrecked.

The people are now hurrying to put together some shelter before the harsh winter descends on the Himalayan Valley.

Mr. Bhat was calm as he spoke about the relief that had reached them in a trickle, and why the Assembly election — due in December-January — must not take place until the situation improves. “We are struggling to have a roof over our head. And half the population of our village is still away,” he said.

Not far from the district headquarters, Arigutan is among the better-serviced villages, but still people are angry over the collapse of the State government machinery. Mohammad Yousuf, in his early 20s, abruptly interrupted Mr. Bhat’s soft talk. “We want no election, no selection,” he declared. “We want only azaadi,” he shouted, and many others, mute listeners until then, joined the chorus. “[Chief Minister] Omar Abdullah is roaming around in helicopters. He failed us and we don’t want another election,” another said.

The village had voted in good numbers in the recent Lok Sabha election.

Control of relief supply

Adding an interesting twist to his arguments, Mr. Yousuf wants only the Army to manage the relief operations. “The National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party [PDP] are fighting with each other and cornering the relief supply. The Army has been fair and only they must be in charge of the relief supply,” he says. But that does not take away his focus from azaadi. “India and Pakistan have squeezed us Kashmiris. Leave us alone.”

With the credibility of the civilian administration having taken a hit, Mr. Abdullah may have to bear its immediate political cost. Senior government officials admit that the collapse of the State machinery in the wake of floods further eroded the standing of the Abdullah government. The government’s connect with the people had already been weak, as Ashfaq, a driver at the Shopian fruit market, declared, “When the PDP was in power, a university and a hospital were sanctioned for the town. The buildings were built, but after the NC came to power, nothing has moved,” he said.

Mr. Abdullah wants the election delayed, but the PDP, the BJP, and the Congress favour it on time. The main argument against holding elections is that officials who are overseeing the relief and restoration work will be redeployed and dislocated people will find it tough during the winters. “That is a valid point, but then if you wait for complete normalcy, it will take several months. On the other hand, elections will infuse some economic activity, and a new elected government will be quick on its feet with rebuilding,” says a senior official in the State government.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 5:11:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/floodhit-kashmir-village-redoubles-call-for-freedom/article6455482.ece

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