At the heart of the Lok Sabha elections this time is the national security narrative surrounding the Pulwama terror attack in February. In Pulwama, however, that narrative and the election itself failed to draw voters to the booths.
On Monday, Pulwama and Shopian districts went to vote in the last of the three-phase election for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. The numbers that followed were dismal: a voting percentage of 2.14 per cent in Pulwama and 2.88 per cent in Shopian.
Less than 100 metres from the spot at Lethpora where Jaish-e-Mohammad operative Adil Ahmad Dar rammed his explosive-laden car into a paramilitary convoy killing 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, an occasional voter turned up. By 10 am, 71 votes out of 2,825 votes were polled in the four booths housed in the government school in Lethpora.
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In Rohmoo, a grenade was hurled at another polling station. Another grenade thrown at a polling station in Tikken failed to explode. No casualties were reported from both these incidents in Pulwama district.
At the Hajahad Public School at Awantipora, the polling agents remained absent. After three hours of polling, only one vote out of 4,579 votes was cast. Moderate voting was witnessed at Khrew, the home town of NC candidate Hasnain Masoodi.
By 1.30 pm, 382 of over 1,100 votes were polled at Khrew ‘A’. In the four adjacent polling booths, 422 votes out of 3,212 votes had been polled.
By contrast, at a polling station housing five booths in Shopian town, five of over 3,800 registered voters exercised their franchise. In Shopian’s main town, just over 4,900 votes were polled, while in Pulwama, 7,512 of over 3.5 lakh electors cast their vote.
Polling staff described Monday’s election as a nightmare. Bashir Ahmad, a J&K agriculture department employee posted at a government school in Pulwama’s Pinglena village, said he was getting regular calls from his home asking about his safety. “Since I left home on Sunday, I have been getting a call almost every hour,” said Ahmad, a resident of Tral.
While the polling staff was transported by the government to the booth, they have to make their own arrangements to reach home after they deposit the EVMs at the collection centre in the district headquarters.
“The most difficult time is in the evening when the forces withdraw and the stone throwers come on the streets,” said an employee from Srinagar posted in Pulwama. “How do we reach home? There are no vehicle plying on the roads. It is also very dangerous to move in the evening because of frequent stone-throwing protests. The government has virtually left us to die,” he said.
At Pinglena, 20 polling staff members were cramped in a 12×12 room for Sunday night. With minimal facilities and a hostile environment, they said they could hardly sleep. “We were up most of the time,” said a polling officer. “It was already tense, and the sound of a stone hitting the tin roof terrified us.”