From early on a foggy morning, a steady stream marched towards polling stations. The men didn’t hide their faces; the women didn’t shy away from the cameras. There was no discourse on boycott and voting; instead it was on who should form the government and who must be kept out of power.
The turnout statewide was over 71 per cent. Chief electoral officer Umang Narula said Sonawari had a turnout of 80 per cent, followed by 79 per cent in Doda and 77 per cent in Gurez.
“No one will boycott the elections this time,” said Umar Manzoor, 21, at Saloora of Ganderbal.
Army men, usually tense during polls, were taking cellphone pictures of the long queues outside the booths, and policemen and CRPF personnel were cracking jokes. “Last time, we had to chase stone-pelters every half-hour,” said a CRPF officer at Papchan village of Bandipore.
The reasons for the enthusiasm varied from voter to voter. “We have to vote and defeat Omar Abdullah,” said Umar Manzoor. The CM won Ganderbal last time, though he is contesting elsewhere now.
At Ganderbal’s Tulmulla, where no one had voted in the parliamentary elections, Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, 27, said of Tuesday’s voting: “These are entirely different elections, meant to solve our day-to-day problems.”
Others were driven by the fear that a boycott would benefit the BJP. Said schoolboy Mohammad Asif Wani of Safapora in Sonawari, “This time people fear that if they don’t vote, outsiders will come to power.”
At Barsoo village in Ganderbal, National Conference supporters got into a scuffle with PDP voters outside the polling station. “We are here to vote for National Conference. Had Omar contested from here, we wouldn’t have even come out of our homes,” said Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, 72.
At Bandipore, where sitting PDP legislator Nizamudin Bhat is facing the Congress’s Usman Majeed, supporters of candidates had even set up small camps outside the polling stations. “We didn’t vote last time. At this polling station, there was stone-pelting all day,’’ said Shabir Ahmad Wani at Papchan village.
In Bandipore town, Abdul Rashid Parray pointed at the long queues and said, “Entire families are coming out to vote. Everyone is talking of change.”
In New Delhi, the Election Commission noted how a 121-year-old woman, Noor Bi, too came out to vote. The turnout over 71 per cent follows 52.63 per cent in these 15 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, and is also higher than the 64.97 per cent of the 2008 assembly elections. Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi said this “seems to be the highest ever turnout” in these areas.
With ENS in New Delhi