Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lal Chowk- A day before elections.


The soldiers walk back in two long queues, their rifles slung on shoulders and tall steel Tiffin boxes dandling in hands. As the sun snuffs out, their day ends and Lal Chowk (clock tower) is released from the siege. One day before Srinagar goes to polls, Lal Chowk is again deserted with barricades and barb wires sprawled all across the roads, and no civilians in sight.

Black and white election posters are strewn across the tiled pavements near the clock tower. Some posters are still left on the walls, most of them with torn edges and sides. A large colored poster of Shabir Shah, the separatist leader, his finger raised and hundreds of tiny heads listening to him is still pasted to the wall. The text on Shah’s poster is a couplet of Allama Iqbal. “The nation whose youth’s self has a resilience of steel; no swords are needed in that nation.” A smaller black and white poster in which Muzzafar Shah, the Awami National Conference candidate, urges people to vote for him tomorrow is pasted over it.

The clock tower is out of time on all sides and the digital advertising panels are blank. The base of the tower is wound with barb wires. Three months back, it was here at a similar dusk that torch flames danced till late and fire crackers sparkled high up the sky. It was the Amarnath land revocation order that led thousands of men and women to come out and celebrate on the streets.

“We don’t even know where the polling booth is and we don’t want to know. We don’t want to vote nor will anyone from our family,” says Mohammad Ayub, a resident of Abi Guzar. Ayub was in all the protests and celebrations and is confused at the turn of events. “I thought that we would soon be free but we are voting in large numbers. We should think what we want. I cant understand a thing.”

The Maisuma area is silent and as usual guarded by countless soldiers. The narrow street is deserted and silent.  Few boys walk past, talking among themselves. Even they don’t know where is polling booth is. “We will set it on fire if we knew where it is. It must be in some Superintend’s office. Where else can it be?”



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