The first thing that Sakina Ittoo tells you with a sullen face is that she wanted to send you back without seeing you. Maybe, the bad manners are an outcome of fear. After all, the 32-year-old lady has been targeted by gunmen four times in the run-up to the elections. So much so that Chief Ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah has given her the unenviable title of 'militant magnet.'
Everyone in Kashmir wonders why her. And no one, except Sakina, has an answer. "These are not militants. These are PDP men who have a nexus with militants and have paid them to take my life," she says, sitting in a firan and scarf in her under-construction house in the back-of-beyond Damhaal Hanjipora.
To reach here is crippling. The potholed roads have potential to break a steel back. But getting into Sakina's house is the real nightmare. There are police dog vans, there is concertina wire, an inside frisking ring, a big, locked gate and a wired passage to the drawing room which is lined with gunmen.
Inside sits Sakina. In the 30 minutes that you spend with her she does not smile even once. As dry as a doctor can get, the lady who "hates politics" but left her second year in MBBS for it, seems to be just waiting to run away. People in her village have rarely seen her. Not then, not now. "She just drives past us in her bullet-proof car," says one villager. The other adds that's for the best. "We neither need her nor do we want her around us. She is such a security risk," he says.
And Sakina confirms: "The attacks have affected my voters. They think someone who can not protect herself will never protect them." But she is mistaken. The electorate will not vote for her because of a threat perception. They just don't seem inclined to give her anything. Call it anti-incumbency, but time spent with Sakina makes you think twice. A put-off to the core, Sakina is really a PR disaster and such a disaster can rarely win polls.
She is a bundle of complaints. She complains you are there, she complains about the threat, she complains that people never acknowledge her work, she complains that there is backdoor pressure by the Opposition, she complains there is pressure on her party workers, she complains that her father never had time for her and she complains she is in politics.
Once the litany of complaints are filed, she moves on to how good she is been to tourism. But isn't the industry at a standstill? "Yes, but we are doing our job." Gondolas, huts, private power, roads, bridges, the list goes on. But how are you dealing with fear. "Meri dimagi halat thheek hai," she says though her poll inactivity belies her claim. By her own confession, last election she covered 133 villages on foot. This time round, she says she has covered her constituency though no one outside her house acknowledges that. All that has been happening at Noorabad, which is high on foreign militants, is that party workers do the dirty work of stopping and talking. Candidates here are largely a source of entertainment for the 50,000-strong electorate. "One candidate came to us in a car and asked us to step out of our shops. We told him, 'hum to aa jayenge par tum pehle apna sar to car ke bahar nikalo'. He just drove away," says Haji Abdullah Meer amid laughter from the crowd. Noorabad has largely decided to boycott the elections. This is a region drunk on azaadi. But it wants the best of the both world too. Roads, development, schools, hospitals and jobs. But none is willing to vote. The constituency boasts of 26 bridges burnt by militants, all schools gutted and scores of harbourers.
Says Sakina: "This is an infested area. We reconstruct in the morning. In the night militants pull everything down." But what if the people are told to vote. "Fauj ayegi to hum jayenge. But we will not vote NC. Because all that glitters is not gold," says Abdul Khaliq Mir. But then he adds: "Old is gold." He is referring to PDP candidate from the same constituency Abdul Aziz Zargar whose years in politics surpass the age of Sakina.
Published in dailypioneer.com