AS VOTERS in north Kashmir showed up at polling booths in large numbers on Thursday, the polling percentage in the fifth phase of District Development Council (DDC) elections increased marginally in the valley, despite low turnout in the southern parts. While Kashmir recorded 33.57 per cent polling, Jammu registered 66 per cent polling, taking the overall turnout in the union territory to 51.20 per cent, officials said.
Election Commissioner K K Sharma told reporters said in Jammu that the fifth phase of elections for 37 seats – 17 in Kashmir division and 20 in Jammu division – was peaceful.
Amid allegations from former chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti that security forces cordoned off a village to prevent voters from coming out to vote, Pulwama and Shopian districts recorded low turnout. According to official figures, Shopian recorded a turnout of 5.52 per cent while the neighbouring Pulwama recorded 8.12 per cent voting.
Mufti accused the security forces of preventing voters from coming out to vote in a Shopian village. “Security forces have cordoned Matribugh (village) in Shopian and are not allowing people to come out to vote under the pretext of inputs about presence of militants. In a brazen display of power, armed forces are being used to rig this election and favour a particular party,” Mufti tweeted, tagging the Army and Election Commission.
The other south Kashmir districts – Anantnag and Kulgam – recorded comparatively better turnout on Thursday. While Anantnag polled 21.89 per cent, Kulgam recorded 26.94 per cent.
The polling scenes in north Kashmir were in complete contrast to south Kashmir, as voters waited in long queues to vote in Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipore districts.
In Thajal, one of the last villages along the Line of Control in Uri housing about 600 families, about 60 per cent of the votes had been cast by noon. “We voted for one party in the past, then another. We are disappointed but we are willing to take a chance again,” a villager said.
Thajal falls in Paranpeelan, a border territorial constituency in Baramulla district, where former Congress minister Taj Mohidin is up against the joint candidate of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).
Voters in Paranpeelan said they witnessed a limited campaign and although there is an understanding that the representatives elected in the on-going polls will decide local issues, “the priority is to empower those who can tackle larger political battles”.
Many villagers said incidents of cross-border shelling have increased several folds due to the rise in tensions between India and Pakistan since August last year. “And despite repeated promises, the village has only two bunkers, that is the reality of our lives,” said Liyaqat Ali, a 36-year-old daily wage worker.
Mohammad Asif, a 40-year-old resident of Thajal, said since Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status in August 2019, “I struggled to find work for months. Everything I heard since then from the BJP in the Centre – electricity in homes and opportunities for our children – is a lie.” He said that before August 5 last year, he used to earn about Rs 400 a day working on road construction in the village itself.
“In the months of clampdown followed by Covid lockdown, I have not been able to make ends meet,” he said.
Village sarpanch Haji Mohammad Hanief said he was the first one to cast his vote on Thursday. “Alliance ko mazboot karna hai (we have to strengthen the alliance),” he said.
About 7 km away, at Salamabad, people are reeling from the after-effects of the cross LoC trade shutting down because of hostilities between India and Pakistan. “Scores of people from the village used to find work at the trade facilitation centre. Now they are staring at an uncertain future with no sign of work in the coming months either,” said Mohammad Lateef.
Baramulla district, where two constituencies – Paranpeelan and Tujjar Sharief – went to polls on Thursday, recorded a turnout of 44 per cent.
People also came out in large numbers to vote in the tribal belt of Bandipore, saying they hope this time it may lead to some development. “We are still waiting for phone connectivity here,” said Shams-ud-din Khan of Kudara village. “Look at the roads. It was developed two years ago under the PMGSY but see it condition today. We also want better drinking water facility in our villages”. Bandipore polled 56.40 per cent votes in the fifth phase.
The central Kashmir districts of Ganderbal and Budgam recorded 37 per cent and 45.65 per cent turnout respectively.
In Jammu division, Poonch district recorded the highest percentage of 71.62 per cent, followed by Doda with 70.95 per cent and Rajouri with 70.83 per cent voting. The lowest turnout in this division was in Jammu district, which recorded 60.24 per cent. —With inputs from ENS, Jammu
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