Just two per cent of about 35,000 voters turned out in Thursday’s repoll in 38 polling stations in this district of Srinagar parliamentary constituency. At 20 booths, not a single vote was polled. J-K’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu said that only 709 votes were polled in the booths that went for re-poll. That even this number turned out after the violence on April 9, the day of the parliamentary bypoll, is what is surprising. For, Budgam saw the most number of incidents on Sunday, and of the eight deaths, seven took place in confrontations between stone-pelters and security forces in this district.
One reason for the violence was that there were significant pockets of high voting in the district and there were significant numbers of people determined to prevent this. Despite the violence, most of the seven per cent turnout on Sunday was in Budgam.
This time, there was none of Sunday’s violence but the turnout was lower, making those who did cast their vote stand out.
Polling station Dooniwari in Chadoora Assembly segment polled 256 votes out of 1246, and in Sippora in Birwah Assembly segment, 242 out of 1108 voters turned out. Still, the boycott overwhelmed everything else and those who arrived at polling stations were either die-hard party activists, relatives, friends or party polling agents.
Those who voted gave different reasons for turning out: to express anger against the PDP-BJP government; to bring development to their area; to have their voice heard in Parliament; or in plain defiance of those who wanted a boycott.
In Pirpora polling booth in Birwah, by 9.45 am, just seven of the 145 voters had cast their vote when Hilal Dar, 26, and his mother Raja arrived. Raja nervously clutched her voting slip and after her vote, she could barely speak. “I’m afraid to go back to the village, I’m a heart patient, I feel scared to return to my own home,” she said.
Hilal told his mother to be brave. Though he wanted to stay on at the polling station, he offered to escort her back to the village. “I got my slip so I came to vote. So what if there’s a boycott. I’m not in the habit of doing everything the village does,” he said.
This polling station was on top of a hill. On Sunday, a mob had entered and destroyed the EVM machine around noon. On Thursday, it had layered security, with one company of J&K police and two of CRPF guarding the booth, the area around and the road leading to it.
Eventually, Hilal and his mother took a back route down the hill to return home so that they would not encounter anyone from the village.
“The village is really divided on this,” said 71-year-old Ghulam Ahmed Dar, as he waited below the hill for a ride. He had not voted yet. “I will decide later. I have till 4 pm,” he said.
In Kanihama polling booth, Farokh Ahmed, 44, a shawl-weaver, came to vote at 2.40 pm. He asked not to be photographed for this interview. “I am not afraid of my neighbours but in these parts, a man has to take several other factors into consideration,” he said.
But he is well known in the area as close to the former PDP MLA from the area, Mohammed Shafi. “I came to vote so that this area can get some development. When we elect someone, he brings in some money, and when the money comes, then some benefits come, like roads, and water and electricity”. He said none of those benefits have come. “But I continue to keep faith in the system because this is all that we have. I still believe something good will come out of it.”
Farokh said people had not boycotted without reason: they were angry and the government must listen to them. “From sentry to mantri, all are the same, that’s why people are so enraged. They have nothing, there is unemployment, they have nothing to do. Government must do something for the unemployed. “
In Sippora, with banners of Ayatollah Khomeini strung up at various places, 242 voters turned out from a total of 1108.
“I voted for development, to elect a candidate who will be our voice in the Parliament of Hindustan. He will get our demands met,” said Ghulam Moideen, in his late 60s, who described himself as a lifelong National Conference supporter. Omar Abdullah won the Birwah Assembly seat narrowly in the 2014 election and the Shia vote here is divided evenly between NC and PDP in the segment. In this village, Farooq Abdullah has many supporters.
His neighbour Riyaz Ahmed, 36, says he voted today despite stone-pelting at his house but the government “has to understand that there are legitimate reasons why most people are boycotting this election.”
“There is so much unemployment, so much bloodshed and maara-maari. What this boycott means is that the government in Delhi must think about Kashmir. I don’t think of myself as a Shia, I am a Kashmiri and a Muslim. India should think of Kashmiris as having blood of the same colour as everyone else in the country. My blood is not yellow or orange, it’s the same red colour as everyone else’s. You can say that my vote is an expression of anger against the present government. They have completely failed. They give bullets and pellets even when people ask for their rights,” he said. “A government should be reasonable. We are requesting that they begin talks with our neighbouring country. I have a two-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. I want a good future for them. Kisi bhi tareh, yeh masla hal ho jaaye. (Let the problem be solved one way or the other)”