62 Per Cent Turnout In Separatists' Stronghold Of Kupwara

30 November 2008

Kupwara: Ignoring a boycott call, the separatists' stronghold of Kupwara in Kashmir Valley today witnessed a huge turnout with nearly 62 per cent of the electorate exercising their franchise in the third phase of Assembly elections. An estimated 62 per cent of 3.4 lakh electorate voted in the five constituencies of Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab, Handwara and Langate in Kupwara district where polling was held peacefully, election officials said. Karnah constituency located along the border recorded the highest turnout of 79.25 per cent, the highest among the five segments and 15 per cent more that in 2002 Assembly elections, followed by Lolab at 64.05 per cent, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Masood Samoon told reporters. Election Commission said Kupwara registered 60.52 per cent polling. The turnout in the other two segments of Langate and Handwara was 54 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Kupwara is hometown of JKLF founder Maqbool Butt who was hanged in 1984. It is stronghold of the two factions People's Conference led by Sajad and Bilal Lone, sons of slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone. However, as in the last two phases, the separatists' poll boycott call had no effect on people who cast their votes amid tight security. 'We have nothing to do with the boycott call. We are casting votes for the formation of the government which can care for us and develop backward areas of the state like ours', said Abdul Rahim Lone (59) of Machil. An average 53.15 per cent voting was recorded in the five constituencies in 2002 with Karnah recording the highest of 65.37 per cent and Lolab the lowest - 46.89 per cent. Despite low to moderate turnout in the early hours due to the cold weather, serpentine queues soon appeared outside many polling stations as morning fog gave way to sunshine. Eight persons were injured as police baton charged some anti-poll protesters in Tregham and Rawalthpura. Valiat Hussain, a retired teacher and staunch supporter of hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, cast his vote at 10-Tandghar-C polling booth. He said he had no choice but to vote as 'everybody in the town was voting'. 'I would have felt an odd man out if I would not vote', he said. The overall poll percentage is expected to go up by few points as data from remote areas was awaited, officials said. An estimated 69 per cent votes were cast in the first phase on November 17 and 67 per cent turnout was registered in round two on November 24. Over 10,000 additional security personnel were deployed at 448 polling booths declared hyper sensitive or sensitive in the third round of the seven stage poll. A record number of 71 contestants, including five women, were trying their luck from the constituencies this time as against 43 candidates in 2002 elections. Among women candidates are Shabnum Lone, daughter of slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone. The highest number of candidates fighting from a single assembly segment is Kupwara (19), followed by Langate (15), Karnah (14), Handwara (13) and Lolab (10). 113-year-old Haji Ghulam Ahmad was among those who cast their votes. Haji, who hails from Wudhpura village in Kupwara, claims he has never missed an election. 'They (MLAs) do not fulfil their promises made during the election campaign. But I am voting in the hope that one day we will find a representative who will work for us, the people of the constituency and not just for himself,' Ahmad said after casting his vote. Although National Conference bagged four of the five seats in last elections, the party is facing stiff competition from PDP and independent candidates this time. Unlike the first two rounds, intense electioneering was witnessed in the five constituencies. The next phases will be held on December 7, 13, 17 and 24. The separatist Hurriyat Conference came out with its usual response, dubbing the elections as a 'drama'. The elections cannot 'weaken that sentiment for resolution of Kashmir at the international level,' a spokesman of the amalgam said. Barring couple of incidents of poll related violence and token protests by separatists at two places, the polling passed off peacefully in the entire district, Samoon said. He said a personal security officer of National Conference candidate from Lolab Qaiser Jamsheed Lone fired in air following a scuffle at Inderbugh polling station. 'Lone had gone inside the polling station and when he came out some people started booing him, leading to a scuffle between his supporters and others. The PSO fired in air but there was no damage done,' he added. In Tangdhar area of Karnah, activists of two rival candidates clashed with each other but the matter was resolved with the intervention of security forces, he said.