AFTER AN encouraging first phase of the District Development Council (DDC) polls, the Kashmir Division saw a dip in voter turnout in two districts in south — Anantnag and Shopian — in the second phase. Polling percentage in Pulwama was 8.67 per cent, the lowest, just like in Phase I.
Compared with the 41 per cent turnout in the Valley in the first phase, the Election Commission said only a third of total voters cast their votes in the second phase. In Jammu, the turnout was significantly higher at 65.54 per cent, placing the overall poll percentage of the Union territory at 48.62 per cent.
Over 1.35 voters in Kashmir division and 2.41 lakh voters in Jammu division cast their ballot to select representatives for 25 and 18 constituencies, respectively, in the second phase of the DDC polls.
Dooru village of Zaingeer constituency in Baramulla district — the native place of Hurriyat Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani — marked a departure from the past by polling 11 votes. “We always boycotted polls here, but this time we have come out to vote because we have to keep the BJP away from Kashmir,” said 37-year old villager Firdous Ahmad. “I have voted for the (People’s) Alliance candidate. I know, they have always ditched us in the past but this time it is choosing between the greater evil and the lesser evil,” he said.
Near the Line of Control in villages in Akhnoor and Khour sub-divisions in Jammu district, people lined up at polling stations undeterred by Pakistani mortar shelling and small arms fire. Polling continued beyond the official 2 pm closing with many still in queues at some polling stations in Bhalwal Brahmana in Akhnoor and Seri Pallai in Khour sub-division’s Battal area.
On Friday last, two soldiers were killed in Pakistani firing along the LoC in the Battal area, while a Pakistani drone had dropped weapons including two AK47 rifles, a pistol and ammunition in Akhnoor sub-division’s Sohal Khud area.
Showkat Ali, 34, a Bakerwal who along with his family and herd moved to highland pastures in Poonch during summer and returned to Dhok Khalsa in winter, said he was voting for development on the ground. “Whether Article 370 is there or not makes no difference to us. The administration remained the same and barred our entry into forest enclosures where we had been taking our herd since generations,’’ he said.
The polls were conducted under an unprecedented security cover as police, paramilitary forces and army were deployed in huge numbers across the constituency. No untoward incident was reported from any place during the day.
In Dangerpora, also in Baramulla’s Zaingeer constituency, there was a steady trickle of voters. During the last three Assembly stints, the legislator representing the Sopore constituency was from Dangerpora and villagers in neighbouring Shiva village complained the MLA didn’t pay much attention to their area.
“In past, we did not vote and were completely neglected. Look at the roads. They are in bad shape,” said Ishtiyaq, who refused to give his second name. “We boycotted the Panchayat elections and look at who is representing us – they are all illiterate. We always stood for Azadi (freedom) and we would continue to… but it was necessary to vote to get rid of illiterate representatives,” he said.
Braving chill, men and women turned out in large numbers at the polling stations, waited patiently in long queues in the twin constituencies of Bandipore in North Kashmir, recording a 69.66 per cent voter turnout.
In contrast, most voters in South Kashmir’s Pulwama, Anantnag and Shopian stayed away from the polling booths. These three districts registered a low turnout: 8.67 per cent, 16.09 per cent and 17.28 per cent, respectively.
Addressing the press at the end of the second phase, State Election Commissioner K K Sharma announced that within Kashmir, Bandipora reported the highest voting percentage, and Pulwama the lowest. Meanwhile, in Jammu, Poonch reported the highest voting average of 75.07 per cent and the rural areas of the Jammu district recorded nearly 70 per cent voter turnout.
Responding to questions about complaints from political parties regarding restrictions placed on their candidates, Sharma said, “I have received these complaints and we have sought written reports from the police. We are not stopping any candidate but to secure them in vulnerable areas, candidates are being requested to share their timetables to protect them. Police escort is being provided to them.”
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