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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Day 1 of J&K political test: 41% turnout in Valley, 52% overall

Polling peaceful amid tight security; brisk voting in Jammu

Written by Bashaarat Masood , Naveed Iqbal , Arun Sharma | Jammu, Kulgam, Kupwara | Updated: November 29, 2020 1:08:06 pm
At a polling station in Pahalgam on Saturday. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi)

THE GOVERNMENT school at Dogripora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara wore a festive look with voters, young and old, men and women, thronging the nine polling booths. The scene captured the electoral mood Saturday in many parts of the Valley that saw a turnout of 40.6 per cent for the first District Development Council (DDC) polls in J&K.

In Jammu, voting was brisk with 64.2 per cent polling in the first of the eight-phase polls. Overall, 3.62 lakh of the nearly 7 lakh electorate cast their vote to log a turnout of 51.7 per cent in the 43 constituencies that voted, according to J&K Election Commissioner K K Sharma. The voters included 1.93 lakh men and 1.79 lakh women. Except for an incident of stone pelting by a youth in Kulgam, polling took place peacefully, Sharma said.

The turnout under a tight, multi-layered security blanket is being seen as good news for the Central Government that has pushed the polls as the first test in reviving the political process in the newly created Union Territory after the state’s bifurcation last August. The numbers also lifted hopes within the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which is banking on a higher turnout to establish its claim as the mainstream voice.

In Kashmir, long queues were witnessed at some booths in Kupwara, Sumbal and Tangmarg, while others were deserted. Khansahib in central Kashmir’s Budgam polled the most, with 57 per cent, while the least was recorded in Achgooza constituency of south Kashmir, with six per cent.

Overall, Budgam had the highest turnout of 56.9 per cent in Kashmir, followed by Kupwara (50.74), Ganderbal (48.60) and Shopian (42.5). In Jammu, Reasi topped with 74.6 per cent, followed by Rajouri (70.5), Poonch (68.69) and Samba (68.61).

At the Dogripora school in Kupwara’s Kalaroos constituency, where six candidates are in the fray, 257 out of 397 votes had been polled by 1 pm. “I am supporting the alliance because they have come together for us. People have come out to vote because they want to keep the BJP away,” said Abdul Ahad, a 70-year-old shopkeeper.

But at a school at Damhal Hanjipora of Kulgam in south Kashmir, there was just a trickle of voters. Among the few that turned out to vote was 70-year-old Abdul Rehman who reflected the fatigue among the older generation and the willingness to try out a new system that promises to bring governance a step closer.

“I have voted for whoever I thought was the most promising candidate in every election. I have heard their promises, I have also heard their excuses. But I still live in a dilapidated house and I know I will die in it,” he said, supporting himself with a walking stick fashioned out of a tree branch.

The younger voices spoke of resentment against the BJP at the Centre. There is no BJP candidate at Damhal Hanjipora — three party workers were killed in Kulgam in a militant attack on October 30. They were not too keen on the Altaf Bukhari-led J&K Apni Party, either, which is being linked to the BJP.

“Most people of my age here are not voting. But this time, it is critical to lend support to the mainstream and keep the BJP out,” said Imtiyaz, who identified himself as a college student but declined to disclose his full name.

For several voters, these elections also hold out hope. “Earlier, we had to take our issues to the local MLA. They were not always accessible. This election brings the elected representative closer to me. They are local and they will not run off to Srinagar to live in government bungalows. That’s the hope, at least,” said Farooq Ahmad, 42, an apple orchard worker.

The first phase also witnessed a few glitches in the Valley. With ballot papers being used for the DDC elections as well as the panchayat bypolls, there was confusion among voters. “Polling staff assisted voters in identifying the right ballot boxes for the two sets,” said a poll official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There were lapses in some booths about the Covid protocol. Despite signages pointing to the use of masks, several polling officials were seen without them. “We thought we would be provided with masks here. But we didn’t find any Covid arrangement. There were no masks or hand sanitisers,” said a polling agent in Kalaroos.

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