Militancy, Boycott No Deterrent, 64% Cast Vote

17 December 2008
The Indian Express

New Delhi: When people in large numbers lined up outside polling booths on Wednesday morning across south Kashmir, a high voter turnout was no longer a surprise. With 75.55 per cent polling in the one-time Lashkar hub of Noorabad and an overall turnout crossing 60 per cent, the discourse in the sixth phase had already shifted from elections to the new combinations for a coalition in the state. Deemed as Mufti territory, the PDP started as a favourite in majority of the 10 constituencies that went to polls on Wednesday. The first poll stop on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway that pierces through south Kashmir was Bijbehara - the native place of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Women in long pherans formed a substantial chunk of the gathering. The Muftis left this town long ago, but their politics have struck deep roots. “Voting is our right. Casting vote is virtuous. It is a sin to waste it,” said a frail and elderly Fazi standing in the queue. “We need sadak, pani, bijli, drain. Our candidate will facilitate this”. A few miles ahead, Anantnag was tense. This constituency is sharply divided between the NC and the PDP. In fact, this contest is between two of south Kashmir’s major political families - the Muftis and the Beigs. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is fighting Mehboob Beig, son of NC stalwart Afzal Beig. Ads By Google As a group of slogan-shouting men emerged from the bylanes and started pelting stones, SSP Nitish Kumar told The Indian Express, “They have all cast their votes. Now they want to create problems so that the supporters of the rival party don’t get a chance.” The police soon brought the situation under control. It was clear that the separatist boycott had turned into a poll strategy. In Dooru, too, a large number of people cast their votes. Said Ghulam Nabi Bhat, “We don’t have electric poles here - the wires are tied to willows. We have 22 taps in the village, but only two of these function. We want all this.” He added that abstaining from polling is no longer a choice. However, inside the village, the discussion was not only about development. Congress candidate Ghulam Ahmad Mir had been arrested for his alleged involvement in the 2006 sex scandal. The Opposition had tried to raise it to discredit Mir. “We don’t believe it,” said Raja Begum, a middle-aged voter. At Nowgam, the Congress and the NC supporters were hurling everything from kangris (fire pots) to stones. The reason for this tiff was the sex scandal. Soon, the police arrived to disperse the mob. The voting, however, continued. At the traditional separatist territory of Devalgam in Kokernag constituency, by noon, 409 out of 891 had cast their ballot. The Congress’s Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed was battling PDP’s first-timer Sehar Iqbal. In Noorabad, a one-time LeT bastion, the voter turnout was 71.55 per cent against 23.4 per cent in 2002. Here the PDP’s Abdul Aziz Zargar was contesting NC’s Sakina Itoo. In 2002, the militants had targeted Itoo, who survived four assassination bids. At 10.30 am in Yaroo, the entire village was outside the polling booth - 263 votes out of 858 had already been polled. At Tangmarg village in the foothills of Pir Panjal, half of the total 1,200 votes had already been polled by noon. A large number of Gujjars had trekked miles to reach the last polling booth of Noorabad constituency. In Kulgam, Communist leader and incumbent M Y Tarigami was in a direct contest against PDP’s Nazir Ahmad Laway. The constituency polled 60 per cent votes. Like across south Kashmir, the separatist Jamaat-e-Islami activists came out to vote for the PDP.