February 2005 News

In Srinagar, 20 Pc Votes Still 'historic'

1 February 2005
The Indian Express

Srinagar: Shaking off a perceived apathy to elections and prompted by bad civic infrastructure, Srinagar today broke with its 15-year tradition of notching up single-digit voting figures to log a record 20 per cent turnout in the civic polls. While large areas of the city heeded the Hurriyat boycott call, long queues were spotted in the neighbourhoods to elect 68 representatives to the Srinagar Municipality Corporation for the first time in 27 years. As the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led coalition government flaunted the numbers, hailing the day as 'historic', its supporters clashed with Opposition National Conference workers at many places, accusing each other of bogus voting. The separatists, meanwhile, registered their disapproval with Yasin Malik accusing the government of bringing in people from villages to shore up the figures. The Hurriyat faction led by hardliner Syed Ali Geelani felicitated the people for 'boycotting the polls'. However, J-K Urban Development and Housing Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir said 'it is a great day for democracy'. Comparing the turnout to figures logged during last year's Lok Sabha elections and the 2002 Assembly polls, Mir said there was a huge jump in voter participation. 'Despite many odds like militant threats and boycott calls, people voted in good numbers today. We're expecting turnout to go beyond 25 pc. These numbers are much more than the 5 pc in last year's Lok Sabha polls and below 5 pc in the Assembly polls,' he said. Although voting began on a poor note at 8 am, people started queueing up in large numbers as the sun broke through the winter cloud cover. Long lines of voters were spotted at a school on the banks of Dal Lake at 9 am, with the marble-domed shrine in Hazratbal - a separatist stronghold - looming over them. As one of them, Majid Jehangir Khan, a businessman, put it: 'The vote I am going to cast now is not against our freedom struggle. It's just to elect my representative who could improve our roads and drains.' Across the Dal Lake in Baba Mohalla near Nehru Park, voters outside the polling booth at Institute of Hotel Management fretted over missing names in electoral rolls. Over 850 names were missing from the rolls, alleged Mohammad Aslam Dongla, a voter. 'We've 850 votes in the houseboat community but hardly anyone exists on the voter list. We have voter identity cards but we're not entitled to vote,' said Dongla. Till 11.30 am, just 95 votes out of over 2100 had been polled here as staff struggled to find names on the rolls. In the upmarket suburb of Chanpora, policemen held off rival supporters of NC and Congress after they hurled charcoal-filled kangris at each other, accusing rivals of bringing in bogus voters. A few kms away, through the winding upmarket area of the city, the scene was different at a Batamaloo polling booth. Till 3 pm, only nine votes had been cast. Some attributed the poor turnout here to last night's grenade attack on the booth, which left one staff member injured, while many said that separatist sentiments were still strongly embedded in the locality.


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