Bandipore, Nov 24: The staccato of gunfire has been replaced by sounds of poll sloganeering in Bandipora, which once witnessed frequent encounters between militants and security forces but is now gripped by election fever.
Sandwiched between border district of Kupwara and Ganderbal district in the outskirts of Srinagar city, Bandipora was the infamous transit route for militants infiltrating into the Kashmir Valley with jungles providing a safe haven for them.
"There is lot of improvement. Earlier, Bandipora used to be considered as a militancy infested area and now we have seen the change.... Particularly, people have changed their mind. They have seen death and destruction here. That is why you have seen people coming out openly," says Congress candidate from Bandipora assembly seat Usman Abdul Majid.
53-year-old Majid has seen all faces of Kashmir as he was among the first ones from the area to pick up a gun against the government, then to use that gun against militancy and later to join the political process to become a Minister of State in the Mufti Sayeed government.
"We don't want people to suffer and add to their miseries.... We support them, we help them and we show them we are instrumental in developing their area...so that's the change here in Bandipora," he explained.
Majid explains that the area is not militancy-free but because of local support dwindling, even militants quickly move to other parts of the Valley rather than camping in the deep jungles of Arin, Kudra and Sariwas in Bandipore.
With supporters of Congress flanking him from all sides, Majid is seen busy explaining to his workers about the strategy to oust sitting PDP MLA Nizam-ud-din Bhat. Gurez is another constituency where the sounds of gunshots often rent the air because of its proximity to Line of Control(LoC) and an "easy" infiltration route for militants to enter the Valley.
However, no one from its villages has ever joined the militancy.
"The credit goes to people of the area," sitting National Conference(NC) MLA Nazir Ahmed Khan said. "The change was visible and I have not heard of a single infiltration bid made by militants this year," Khan said.
Khan's bid for a third consecutive term will face stiff opposition from veteran Congress leader Faqir Mohammed Khan and PDP candidate Mohammed Ismail Lone.
Unemployment in this remote constituency of the Valley is the major poll issue. The third seat from the Bandipore district, which was carved out of Baramulla district in 2007, is Sonawari where National Conference's sitting MLA and former State Assembly Sepaker Akbar Lone is facing stiff opposition from 29-year-old Congress candidate Imtiyaz Parray, son of Mohammed Yusuf Parray alias 'Kuka Parray', who is considered as father of counter-insurgency in the Valley.