by Shams Irfan
SRINAGAR: At 3:30 pm, as the third phase of Urban Local Bodies (ULB) poll day nears to the conclusion, Mukhtar Ahmad Dar, 52, an independent candidate from Khwaja Bazar area in downtown Srinagar, looks tense as he lights a cigarette inside the premises of ward 42 polling centre. So far only 107 votes polled out of total 1982 registered voters.
But more than the low poll, what worries Dar is that his rival, a young lady from the neighbourhood who is contesting on a BJP ticket, has managed to get her voters out to polling booths.
“I have fought elections because I don’t want to see BJP making inroads in Srinagar,” said Dar, as he takes a long puff out of his half-extinguished cigarette. “My sole purpose was to keep this communal party out of my area.”
Dar, a businessman, who is contesting elections for the first time, boasts that he has not shifted to any hotel, unlike his rivals. “I have overwhelming support from my locality,” said Dar with a hint of self-confidence in his voice. “I stayed in my house after filing my nomination.”
In 2005, Dar’s wife contested unsuccessfully for counsellors elections as an independent candidate from the same area. When the ULB elections were announced and Dar came to know about the boycott call by main regional parties like NC and PDP, he decided to contest himself. “In the light of NC and PDP’s poll boycott it becomes the duty of every Kashmiri to defend ourselves from a right-wing party like BJP,” said Dar.
In a corner, Mohammad Saleem Kak, 31, a Congress candidate from Nowhatta, looks confident as he attends calls from party-men about voting status. Kak, who started his political journey at the age of eighteen, deals in Kashmir arts. “I was the first part of NC, then PDP and finally one year back I joined Congress,” said Kak.
But unlike his rival Dar, Kak couldn’t campaign at all as he has been put into protective custody since the day he filed his nomination. “I was kept in a hotel in Rajbagh and not allowed to go anywhere,” said Kak, with a hint of disappointment in his voice. “How could I even canvass being away from my area?”
Then Kak, who had a tough time convincing his parents and siblings about his decision to contest ULB elections, started dialling numbers of relatives, friends and well-wishers from the highly secured hotel room. “It was really tough to convince people to come out and vote given the situation,” said Kak.
However, as the polling started at 6 am, even before the first ray of light hit the tin roofs of this polling station, Kak managed to get his family and a few close friends to vote for him. “Those who came on their own came because of my work in last one year,” said Kak. “If I would have been allowed to go out for canvassing, I could have managed more votes.”
Outside the polling booth, a few policemen in civvies stopped this reporter to seek updates about the recent encounter in Pulwama. “What is the fate of that militant who is admitted at SMHS hospital?” one of them asked impatiently.
At five minutes drive, in congested Maqdoom Sahib area, polling agents and observers look anxiously towards the big iron gate, housing ward 41. Since 6 am, only 64 people have walked through that gate to cast their votes. There are 1982 registered voters in this area. “We were expecting brisk voting in this ward, but one of the EVM’s malfunctioned at 8:30 am,” said Ajaz Ahmad Khan, 23, an auto-driver who doubles as polling agent for his Congress contestant friend Sheikh Firdous.
Khan, who has waited all day for voters, feels cheated as the people who promised to come, didn’t show up till one of the two functioning EVM was sealed. “I am a local but I know people are afraid. I cannot force anyone other than my family to come and vote,” said Khan in a matter of fact manner.
But Sahil, 22, a polling agent for independent candidate Mohammad Yasin Churisaaz, is content that he could manage to get his family of six to vote. “Yasin is my neighbour and it was him who got me a job in SMC,” said Sahil. “I had to pay back, so the least I could have done is to get my family.”
Sahil says he is associated with Yasin since his childhood. “He is actually a PDP man, but as his party is boycotting polls, he contested independently,” said Sahil. “We didn’t campaign at all given the public mood.”
Srinagar city was the major area of Kashmir that went to polls in the phase-III. Though the Saturday polls covered 27 wards, polls took place only in 21 wards as six had already winners in absence of a contest.
At the end of the day, Srinagar’s 25 wards registered just 2827 votes (1.8 per cent) out of 153316 votes. There were many polling stations where the polled votes did not cross two-digit and a few where it was only single-digit turnout. A polling station in Mukhdoom Saab belt had more than 500 votes.
Srinagar apart, phase-III covered the municipal elections for Hajin, Sopore, Tral, Awantipore, Pahalgam, Seer, Mattan, Uri and Ashmuqam. There was no requirement of polling for the municipal elections of Hajin, Tral, Awantipore, Pahalgam, Ashmuqam and Seer. At all these places, either there were no candidates or there was just one candidate.
This left only two spots where polling had to be organised: Srinagar and Uri.
The border Uri town put up a huge show and participated in huge numbers. Officials put the participation at more than 75 per cent. Reports from the border down said that nearly 2700 people participated and there was a huge participation of women too. Indications suggest that the Congress and BJP may have won a few seats but the independents will rule the municipality.
State’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Shaleen Kabra said that overall 16.4% polling was witnessed in the Phase-III of Municipal Polls-2018 across J&K today.
Kabra said in Jammu division 81.4% polling was witnessed in 4 ULBs of district Samba that went to polls today while Kashmir division witnessed average 3.5% polling with Municipal Committee Uri recording the highest of 75.3 % voting. The lowest poll percentage of 1.8% was recorded in Srinagar.
In Jammu division highest polling percentage of 85.73% was recorded in Bari Brahamana ULB, the CEO said.
He said the cumulative poll percentage in all the three phases till date is 41.9% with 68.4% voting recorded in Jammu division and 6.7% in Kashmir Division. The final phase of the Municipal Polls is scheduled to be held on 16 October 2018.
Kabra said that 365 candidates were in the fray for 96 wards of 8 Urban Local Bodies for the 3rd Phase comprising a total electorate of 193990 electors.
The CEO said that due to non-replacement of EVM in time, repoll shall be held at Polling Station No: 9 Bachidarwaza of Makhdoom Sahab (Ward No: 41) on 16 October 2018.