J&K local polls: Terror threat keeps voters indoors in valley, huge turnout in Jammu

Overall polling percentage across J&K in Monday's polling has been recorded 56.70 per cent.

Srinagar: It was a combination of sympathy for the separatists’ cause and fear of militants that kept a majority of voters indoors in the Kashmir Valley on Monday as Jammu and Kashmir went to polling in the first phase of municipal elections.

However, much enthusiasm was witnessed among the voters in state’s two other regions - Ladakh and Jammu - and even some pockets of the valley despite the boycott calls by separatist groups and major mainstream political parties including National Conference (NC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), CPIM and BSP.

According to J&K’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Shaleen Kabra, the overall polling percentage across the state in Monday’s polling has been recorded 56.70 per cent.

However, official sources said that the voter turnout remained restricted to around 18 per cent in the Kashmir Valley.

As per these sources, Srinagar recorded 6.2 per cent polling, Baramulla 5.1 per cent, Jammu district 63.83 per cent, Kargil 78.2 per cent, Leh 55.2 per cent, Poonch 73.1 per cent and Rajouri 81 per cent. In the Kashmir Valley, frontier Kupwara district witnessed highest and neighbouring Bandipore district lowest turnout.

The polling was held in 321 of the 1,145 wards. A tight security umbrella had been put in place all over the restive state to ensure incident-free polling.

Srinagar’s DC Syed Abid Rasheed Shah said, “We’ve made elaborate security arrangements all over to ensure polling takes place in safe and secure manner and people are able to exercise their democratic right smoothly.”

Local watchers said that the security bandobast witnessed in several areas of the valley on Monday was “unprecedented” in the electoral history of J&K. Also, all candidates have been provided either cluster security in hotels or individually in Kashmir valley, the hotbed of militancy and campaign for ‘azaadi’ (freedom).

In the face of boycott calls, the government announced a slew of measures to attract as many people to join the fray. This included monetary benefits and other incentives apart from security cover. The Governor’s administration has on behalf of the Centre also promised a one-month extra salary to all those government employees who are performing poll duties.

The polling began at 7 am and continued till 4 pm. However, at several places voters were allowed to cast their votes beyond the official closing of the polling on technical grounds, the official sources said.

The counting of votes will take place on October 20.

The CEO said that a total of 1,283 candidates were in the fray for the municipal wards on Monday. He added that this time large numbers of independents candidates are also contesting.

While an official holiday had been declared in poll-bound areas, a shutdown called by ‘Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL)’, an alliance of key separatist leaders, brought life to a standstill in most parts of the valley.

The police had earlier placed several separatist leaders and activists under house arrest or took them into preventive custody ahead of the polling.

Mobile internet services were withdrawn in southern parts of Kashmir while the speed was reduced to 2G in rest of the Valley “as a precautionary measure” to maintain law and order.

The separatists' strike call found no takers in Jammu and Ladakh regions, reports received here said.

However, the poll boycott diktat led to poor percentage of voting in a majority of areas in the Kashmir valley, the fact admitted even by the BJP. A party candidate Bashir Ahmed said, “The boycott call has affected the voting turnover. No one can deny this fact nor should we be shy of accepting it. It is not because of separatist leadership’s call but due to the threats issued by militants.”

He, however, hastened to add, “Whatever the percentage, the BJP is winning.”

At places, including in Srinagar’s Bagh-e-Mehtab, irate crowds clashed with the police and central armed forces after the latter tried to break up pro-freedom protests. Among those injured in stone-pelting incidents in Bandipore are a woman resident Shabeena Javid and a candidate of BJP Adil Ali Buhru. The authorities shrugged these incidents off and said these were only isolated in nature.

The BJP has seized the boycott decision of NC, PDP, CPIM and others to its benefit by fielding candidates against most seats not only in its bastion in Jammu region but also in the Kashmir valley. The Congress too is hopeful of winning many seats in all the three regions of the state, not only in municipal elections but also in those for panchayats being held in phases during the next two months.

In fact, the BJP has for the first time in the electoral history of the state won many seats unopposed and is likely to take control of, at least, seven municipal committees in Kashmir valley in these elections.

Also mainly due to the boycott calls, as many as 215 municipal wards will return their representative unopposed and nearly sixty of them belong to the BJP including in southern parts of the valley which have been worst hit in turmoil during the past three years.

Not a single candidate is contesting on 178 municipal wards out of a total 624 in the Kashmir valley. This with 215 wards seeing no contest means tens of thousands of people will not be exercising their voting rights.

J&K has two municipal corporations for its twin capitals Srinagar and Jammu, six municipal councils and 71 municipal committees. More or less similar situation is emerging in connection with the panchayat elections.

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