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Once a militant stronghold, Downtown Srinagar witnesses political resurgence

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Srinagar, May 5 (PTI) Once a hunting ground for terrorists, the downtown Srinagar is witnessing a vibrant political revival as former chief minister Omar Abdullah orchestrated a bold move Sunday by hosting a rally for his National Conference candidate from the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.

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The region's Hawal, which used to be a stronghold of the banned Al Umar Mujahideen (AuM) terrorist group and where kidnappings were the order of the day in early 1990s, is a completely different place now as it is abuzz with political rallies and party activities.

So much so was the enthusiasm that the security forces had a tough time managing the crowd at the NC rally hosted at a park in the Tibetan colony, just meters away from the historic Jama Masjid, a focal point for Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's moderate Hurriyat Conference.

During his tenure as chief minister, Abdullah had made significant efforts to support unemployed youths in the downtown city by providing them with soft loans to operate roadside kiosks, aiming to prevent them from being influenced by anti-national elements and involve in activities like stone-pelting.

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However, many youths lost their occupation to the massive 2014 floods, leading to a resurgence in the incidents of stone-pelting. The National Conference was voted out of power, but the floods couldn't wash away the investment in youths Abdullah made during his tenure.

And its impact was on full display during Sunday rally as many of them turned up to show their support.

The atmosphere was electric as people filled the park and even perched on their rooftops, chanting slogans in support of the National Conference and their candidate, Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi.

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"'Omar Saab aagey badho, hum tumhare saath hain' (You march ahead Omar, we are with you)" slogans rent the air as women gathered at the venue, singing traditional Kashmiri wanwun (chorus) and cheering for Abdullah.

Addressing the jubilant crowd, a visibly elated Abdullah justified his choice of Mehdi as a candidate, praising his fearlessness and ability to represent the constituency's aspirations.

During his speech, punctuated by frequent chants from the spirited audience, Abdullah highlighted the challenges faced by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, emphasising their "silenced" voices and the presence of "outsiders" in government offices.

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The people of Jammu and Kashmir are going through a very difficult time, he said. "Our lips are sealed, our voices are not heard and our government offices are filled with outsiders." With the Srinagar Lok Sabha elections scheduled for May 13, the National Conference faces stiff competition from the PDP's Waheed Para. The surge in political activities in a region once plagued by terrorism underlined a significant shift towards a more politically active future.

Veteran politician Farooq Abdullah held political rallies on Saturday in downtown Srinagar, signalling a resurgence of democratic processes in the region that was synonymous with violence and unrest.

The senior Abdullah held rallies in Khanyar and Ali Kadal while Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari held a small rally in Fateh Kadal of downtown.

PDP's Para has been mainly focussing on holding street meetings in the area.

This upsurge in political engagement underscores the evolving dynamics of the area, moving from a turbulent past to a more engaged and politically active tomorrow. PTI SKL TIR TIR

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