JUST AFTER 2 pm, two men walked out of the counting centre at Government Degree College for Women in Pulwama, holding a sheet of paper and barely able to contain their smiles. “He won, Waheed won.” While the final vote count was yet to be announced, the lead was unassailable.
Of the 1,851 votes polled for the Pulwama 1 constituency, Waheed-ur-Rehman Para secured 1,322. However, he was not around to collect his certificate.
The PDP’s youth wing leader was arrested by the NIA on November 25, five days after he filed nomination papers, in connection with a terror case against suspended J&K police officer Devinder Singh. The NIA has alleged that Para, who is currently in judicial custody, was in touch with one of the accused in the case.
At his home, in Naira area of Pulwama, his father Ghulam Ahmad Para sits on the floor of the living room, surrounded by friends, neighbours and relatives, the smoke of burning tobacco in a hukkah enveloping the room. “I had hoped the margin to be much higher but with god’s help, my son has won,” he says.
Despite the margin, it is a sombre celebration at the Para household. Amidst rounds of tea and ‘mubaraks’ at the family home, Waheed’s absence is felt. “I have not seen him in two years. After he was released, he came home once to see his sister and I missed seeing him that day as well,” the father says, as he breaks down. He says his son never had permission to stay the night at his own home due to security concerns.
The campaign, carried out by his friends and family, started after Para’s arrest. “This is their victory, his friends’. I only stepped out to campaign for him over two days. His friends did everything,” he says. “Now that he has won, we are living in the hope of his release. I hope he can come home now.”
Following his victory, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, “Couldn’t be prouder of PDPs @parawahid who won his maiden election by a huge margin of votes. Despite being arrested on baseless charges right after filing his nomination people have shown their love & trust for Waheed. Hope justice prevails.”
Pulwama saw an overall voter turnout of 8.51 per cent, the lowest in any district, with a total of 25,956 votes polled, in all eight phases combined. Shopian fared slightly better at 15 per cent. The overall voter turnout for the valley was just above 34 per cent.
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