by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: At 2 pm, the otherwise busy road outside Government Girls High School, Natipora in Srinagar, is deserted.
Apart from a few kids playing cricket in the middle of the road, the entire market-place around the school, where two polling booths are located for voters to exercise their right of franchise, wears a ghostly look. Inside the school building, CRPF men sit under tree shades waiting for people to come and vote.
But since morning just 22 people have cast their votes out of 1804 registered electors in the area. “Koi aa he nahi raha yahan (Nobody is coming here),” said a CRPF man posted outside one of the two booths.
Inside the polling station, officers on duty are keeping their eyes fixed at the main gate waiting for people to walk in. But no one walks in or out of the school building. “I know all twenty-two people by face and name who has so far voted,” said Hilal Haqani, the lone National Conference (NC) polling agent who sits in a corner with thick voter’s list in his lap. “They are the only ones who will vote in this area, as they are affiliated with NC. Rest entire area is on a boycott.”
The scene is not any different inside Government Polytechnic College, Gogjibagh, where two booths operate. Inside the vast spacious ground, under the shade of mighty Chinar trees, around fifty CRPF personnel take rest. They are part of the reserve force to be used in case of any eventuality. In the adjacent ground, both Peoples Conference (PC) and NC polling agents sit in a huddle. They have their eyes fixed at the main gate, located two hundred metres away.
Since morning out of 1051 registered voters, just 36 people came to cast their votes. “Most of the people who came were Sikhs or Kashmiri Pandits living in the area,” said one of the PC’s polling agent. “I am not sure if any of the votes were polled in either PC or NC’s kitty.”
But in Ikhrajpora booth located in Rajbagh, people came in and out of polling station after regular intervals. A number of NC’s polling agents lingered outside Government Girls Higher Secondary School building, making sure that whosoever comes to vote has a hassle-free experience. By 2:30 pm, out of 1891 votes, 200 had already cast their votes. “Do you have any news about Budgam and Ganderbal,” asked one of the NC’s polling agent who was desperate to know the status.
Given the internet ban across Kashmir since Wednesday night, people were struggling to get details of the polling. “I have no idea what is happening outside this polling booth,” said the PDP’s polling agent at Akhoon Sahib polling booth.
Till 5 pm, out of 565 registered voters, only three people have turned up to cast their votes at Akhoon Sahib. “We have been sitting here all day without much luck,” said an NC polling agent who refused to reveal his name.
But the scenes were entirely different in certain areas of the city, thanks to the mobilisation by Irfan Raza Ansari of PC and Agha Mohsin of PDP. “Both have a sizeable following in this area,” said Ali, a PC’s polling agent for Lal Bazar (A) booth.
Fifteen minutes before the day’s voting was about to end, out of 1237 registered vote at Lal Bazar (A), 164 votes were polled. “This seems decent number compared to what other polling booths in the same building has seen,” said Imran, a PC polling agent who looks confident at the numbers.
Interestingly, in adjacent polling booths like Doctors Colony (12 votes out of 529) and Lal Bazar B (05 votes out of 1031) and Lal Bazar C (08 votes out of 926), the overall percentage of votes was just one per cent. “The voting pattern this time was completely area and community oriented,” said Rafiq, an NC polling agent who waited endlessly for voters to turn up.
In Imamia High School, Zadibal, the scene outside four polling booths was festive like with people waiting for final figures to come, as polling staff started to pack EVMs. Out of total of 2957 registered votes’ in four booths of Kathi Maidan (A and B), Gazidoori and Shalbagh, 1251 people had cast their votes by the end of the day. “This area has historically voted in huge numbers,” said a local PC supporter who was keen to know the final verdict. “This place has been the busiest since early morning.”
In Gazidoori booth which had four female polling staff saw a few minor glitches in the EVM in early hours. “It was resolved within minutes,” said one of the female polling officers.
As polling staff declared the end of days voting in Gazidoori booth in Srinagar, the crowd outside started cheering in jubilation.
The final percentage in Srinagar constituency was at 14.80, with Budgam district leading at 21.50, Ganderbal district at 16.75 and Srinagar district at 7.69.
The Budgam Scene
In most of Budgam, the scene did not offer any idea of polling. But moving deep inside, there were pockets where small, quite lines were around polling stations. The numbers were not huge but the electors did report to the polling stations. It was Budgam that actually played the spoilsport on April 9, 2017 by-poll when most of the eight people were killed in this districts.
Perhaps that was the reason why the reporters were seeking meetings with Farooq Ahmad Dar, the Shawl-weaver who was converted into a human shield by the army that day. Interestingly, he was not at home. But the scene at Utligam, wherefrom he was picked by a Major and paraded on his jeep for 28 villages during the day, was same. On April 9, 2017, Dar had gone to condole the death of a lady after he cast his vote and then he was taken by the army.
Interestingly, the village had another death, again of a lady today. But Dar was not there. So the reporters went to his Cheill-Brass village but he was absent. His mother said he had gone on election duty. Since 2005, Dar has been a contract sweeper in the health department. He was weaving shawls as well but, as his mother has said, he has given up shawl making because the 2017incident damaged his thump. But did his mother vote? She said she did not. Nobody knows if Dar had cast his vote, this time.
There were a few instances in Budgam district where the crowds resorted to stone pelting at paramilitary men. At a few places including Beerwa, Kandoora, Chewdara Kawoosa, Ratsun, Nasrullah Pora, Hafrooda, the police did react. Unofficial reports said three persons were injured. Police said they are collecting details. Earlier in the morning, a JKAP man was injured in Charar-e-Sharief.
Later state government in a statement said that a number of stone pelting incidents were reported from different areas.
The spokesman said that during the election process, government forces came under severe stone pelting resulting in injuries to several forces personnel including two DySPs.
In another incident at Hyderpora, a civilian driver identified as Mohammad Yaseen Dar aged 22 years sustained critical injuries in his head. He is undergoing treatment at a hospital and is stated to be critical.
The administration, therefore, has appealed the masses to cooperate with the officials in discharging the lawful duty of conducting polls in a peaceful manner.
Ganderbal responded to the polls the same way as Budgam and Srinagar did. Early morning, there were not many stations having a voter at all. By afternoon, however, the people started reporting to the polling stations. But the polling was restricted to certain areas, possibly because of the local mobilisation. BJP has its candidate from Ganderbal and at a few places, his influence was visible. However, there were clashes between crowds and cops at Tulmulla in Ganderbal and Cherwan in Kangan. A clash was also reported from Kreshbal in Srinagar’s Pamposh Colony.
In Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency’s Ganderbal district, Dardwooder and Wangath polling stations in Kangan Assembly segment witnessed huge voter turn-out. The long queues of voters of all age groups and backgrounds were seen eagerly waiting to cast their votes.
Similarly, in Durbal Bemina-A of Budgam Assembly Segment, people, irrespective of their gender, were seen thronging polling booths from the early hours of polling. Of total 846 votes, 738 votes, including 340 male and 398 female votes, were polled in the Durbal Bemina, exhibiting their firm faith in democracy.
Similar scenes were witnessed in rest of the constituency especially in Eidgah, Zadibal and Hazratbal, where people came out in significant numbers to exercise their right.
At Chadoora, Chrar-i-Shareef and several other areas of Budgam district, though the second phase of parliamentary elections began on a slow note it gradually picked pace in later hours.
The elections were marked by the enthusiasm of first-time voters, who were excited to get their fingers inked. At a number of places, the youngsters were very excited to have exercised their franchise.
Mohammed Yasin and Aaqib Ahmad, both 19-year-old were among the first time voters at Badipora in Chrar-i-Shareef.
“I was waiting for this day for many months. I had always been watching people casting their vote and my wish was that one day I will also be able to push the button of the electronic voting machine,” said visibly happy Yasin.
Aaqib too expressed similar feelings and recounted how the two had registered in the electoral rolls together. “We came to the polling station early in the morning and we’re excited to cast our vote,” said Aaqib.
In Srinagar’s Fakir Gujri area, festive scenes were witnessed where voters in huge numbers came out for voting.
In Hiranagar Assembly segment of Udhampur Parliamentary Constituency, smooth polling was recorded across most of the polling stations.
In this segment, brisk polling was recorded in Ghagwal, Hiranagar and Kootah polling stations. Long queues of voters were seen across all these polling stations comprising old and young, men and women and specially-abled persons.
Interestingly, in Hiranagar Assembly segment, elderly women voters took lead over their men counterparts.
98-year- old Gyano Devi cast her vote at Ghagwal polling station of in early hours of voting.
Similarly, Purani Devi (88), Sukhdevi (90) and Indra Devi (85) exercised their right to franchise at different polling stations across this segment.
For 20-year–old Roshan Lal, a specially-abled voter, who was accompanied by his father Madan Lal choosing his representative was a national duty.
He cast his vote at Hiranagar polling station. He was visibly excited as he used the ballot exercise for the first time.
For Isher Kour, 101, casting her vote was reminisce of her youthful days when she used to wait for hours in long queues to cast her ballot.
The constituency has 1290318 electors. Officials associated with the exercise said that in Srinagar49969 electors came out to vote to make 7.69 per cent participation. In Budgam 100913 electors exercised their right of the franchise making the participation of 21.53 per cent. In Ganderbal, 30961 electors participated in taking the percentage in the district to 17.6 per cent.
State’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shailendra Kumar put the voter percentage in the second phase involving Udhampur and Srinagar at 45.7% percent.
Addressing media persons here at Banquet Hall, Srinagar, he said that the second-phase of polling was recorded violence free. He informed that Udhampur Parliamentary constituency spread over 17 Assembly segments comprising six districts of Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Reasi, Udhampur and Kathua recorded an overall voter turnout of 70.2 per cent. Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency, spread over three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal with 15 Assembly segments, recorded an overall voter turnout of 14.1 percent, he added.
The voter turnout was highest in central Kashmir’s district Budgam with 21.5 per cent. While as Udhampur recorded 74.8 per cent, followed by Kathua 74.0 per cent, Reasi at 72.7 per cent, Kishtwar 66.2 per cent, Doda, 64.1 percent, Ramban, 59.5 per cent, respectively, the CEO informed.
Pertinently the Srinagar PC is spread over 15 Assembly segments comprising three districts of Central Kashmir-Ganderbal, Srinagar and Budgam with 1,295,304 registered voters including 1,294,560 General voters and 744 service voters. Among the general voters, 667,252 were males and 627,282 female electors.
The authorities had set up 1716 polling stations across the Parliamentary constituency to facilitate the polling.
The Udhampur parliamentary seat has 16, 85,779 electors of which 1,665,467 are registered as general voters and 20,312 as service voters. Among the General voters, 876,319 are males and 789,105 females.
The authorities had set up 2710 polling stations across the Parliamentary constituency.
He said that there were 24 candidates in fray for twin constituencies, including 12 for Udhampur PC and 12 for Srinagar PC. He said the polling was held under the supervision of General Observers, Expenditure Observers and Police Observers, besides micro observers, while as heavy deployment of staff was ensured across the polling stations in the two PCs on Poll day. The CEO informed that 25 all women polling stations and 149 model polling stations were established across the twin constituencies.
He further informed that nearly 1.5lakh first time voters also exercised their franchise.
The CEO informed that there would be slight changes in the overall figures as the final tallies are being made.
The CEO complimented voters, political parties, contesting candidates, polling staff and security forces for smooth and peaceful conduct of polling in the state.
IGP Kashmir, SP Pani, Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar, Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, SSP Srinagar, were also present at the press conference.