Budgam: On the chilly morning of December 7, 72-year-old Ghulam Mohammad Dar was sitting at a shop near a polling booth. For the first time in his life, Dar, a resident of central Kashmir’s Budgam district (Kawoosa village) did not vote. In the past, even when calls were give to boycott the elections, he had never refrained from voting.
Kawoosa is located halfway from the famous winter tourist spot Gulmarg. Surrounded by paddy fields, the village has around 5,000 voters. But among the four booths located at two different locations, only 9 votes had been cast in the elections to the district development council (DDC) as of 1 pm on Monday.
However, in other villages like Nopora, Gagerpora – located close to Kawoosa, witnessed a higher turnout.
Unlike the situation in South Kashmir, the people of Central Kashmir have not remained away from electoral politics for the past several years due to unrest and militancy. But in the fourth phase of polling for the DDC elections, the response has been visibly cold, perhaps indicating that in this part of Kashmir too, people are either indifferent to or are losing faith in electoral democracy.
Kawoosa comes under Beerwah constituency, where former chief minister Omar Abdullah had won the assembly seat. In the DDC elections, a total of eight candidates are in the fray.
Dar says the village has always played a deciding role in who wins the constituency. In the last assembly elections, the village had overwhelmingly supported the National Conference (NC).
“Nobody in the village has any faith left in politicians now. You can see women fetching water in buckets from tube wells, as we don’t have water supply, electricity or even a drainage system. Scores of other issues have remained pending for decades,” he said, in an angry tone. “This is the reason we have decided to boycott the election,” he added.
A few meters away was another polling booth, where a group of army officers accompanied by a local political worker had come to check the number of votes that had been cast.
The army officer in a candid tone asked the presiding officer about the voter turnout. “Zero sir. Mujhe lagta hai hum jaise aaye hai weise hi jayen ge (I guess, we will leave (the booth) in the same state it was when it was opened,” said the officer with a gentle smile.
The political worker said though he had been making the rounds and asking people to vote, he had managed to motivate only five-eight people.
Notably, there is an active militant who was a resident of the village until he joined took up arms four years ago. He joined the militancy after his father had allegedly been killed in a shootout. The village was a hub of militants during the 1990s when Kashmir witnessed the first wave of militancy in the region.
Other residents with whom The Wire spoke to also expressed sentiments that were similar to Dar’s. “We don’t need anything [from the government,” one resident said.
However, in some areas of the district, especially in the hilly areas, people waited in long queues for their turn to vote. For instance, in Surasyar, Bunyaar and Dadwopora villages, a good number of people cast their votes in the hope that the outcome of the election will reduce the high unemployment levels and put an end to their ‘hardships’.
Farhat Qureshi, 29, a first time voter of Sursyaar village, told The Wire that for the past year, no one has come to listen to the woes of the pople. “So, this time I have decided to vote to see a better approach from the local candidate,” he said.
The villagers hoped that the nearest tourist spot – Branwaar – to be developed as it can generate employment for the youth. “The candidates have promised to us that they will address a number of our issues, many of which we have been facing for a long time. Only time will tell if they stand by their words,” Qureshi added.
During the fourth pase, areas in South Kashmir such as Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama, recorded a a thin or low voter turnout.
Like in the phases, Shopian and Kulgam districts saw a good voting percentage once again during the fourth phase. However, in areas like Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian, around 90% of the people have stayed away from the polls. In Anantnag too, barely 25% turnout was recorded.
In Bandipora, people of Binlipora alleged that Abdul Rahman Thekri, the BJP’s district president, had disrupted polling for about half an hour. He went inside the polling station and stopped the polling mid-way, according to people who went to cast their votes.
The voters allege that he tried to force people to vote for his party. However, Thekri denied the allegation and said that he only went to the polling station to check the polling process.
Over 50% turnout, says SEC
Meanwhile, state election commissioner (SEC) K.K. Sharma said that the fourth phase of the DDC polls in J&K recorded 50.08% voting, while no untoward incident was reported anywhere in the UT. As has been the general trend during the polls, Jammu recorded a turnout of around 70% while Kashmir recorded around 30%.
Addressing a press conference in Jammu, Sharma said that 1,916 polling stations were set up for this phase and that 3,64,527 voters had exercised their right.
“People in large numbers came out to vote in J&K. In total, 34 constituencies went to polls—17 each in Kashmir and Jammu,” Sharma said.
“In the Jammu region, Poonch district saw the highest voting percentage – 70.42%. While in Kashmir, Ganderbal district topped with polling percentage at 56.28%,” said Sharma.
He expressed confidence that no seat in the council will remain vacant. “There may be some vacant seats in the panchayats, for which elections will be held once the Chilla-e-Kalaam (the 40-day harsh winter period, beginning on December 21 this year) is over,” he said.