Voting Begins For Final Phase Of J-K Polls

23 December 2008
The Indian Express

Jammu: Polling for 21 constituencies in the seventh and final round of the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday began amid tight security and overcast sky. 'The voter turn-out was low this morning due to chilly conditions. However, polling staff and security personnel took up their positions at 1,872 polling booths by 7.30 am,' an official source said. Fate of 393 candidates, including former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, former Speaker Tara Chand, two sitting MPs, six former ministers and four ministers of state would be decided in the polls. There are also 31 women candidates and 151 independents trying their luck in this phase of elections. As many as 70,000 personnel of Central security forces have been deployed in and around the polling booths set up for over 16.91-lakh electorate, including 8,22,671 women voters in Srinagar, Jammu and Samba districts. Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting from two constituencies Hazratbal and Sonawar is the most prominent figure among the candidates. As compared to 2002 assembly elections when 221 candidates were in the fray, this time a record number of 393 candidates including 31 women and 151 independents are trying their luck in the 21 constituencies. Jammu-West constituency has highest number of candidates 34. It is followed by 29 in Amirakadal, 27 in Bishnah, 26 in Sonawar, 25 in Nagrota, 21 each in Habbakadal and Akhnoor, 20 in Jammu-East, 19 each in Vijaypur and Suchetgarh, 18 each in Batmaloo and Hazratbal, 17 in Gandhinagar, 16 in Zadibal, 15 in Marh, 14 each in Idgah and R S Pura, 12 in Samba, 11 Raipur-domina, 10 in Khanyar and seven in Chhamb. Srinagar District Election Officer Mehraj Ahmad Kakroo said in order to ensure free, fair and transparent elections, the administration has taken various measures to prevent impersonation, bogus voting and disruption in poll process. Security measures for electors, contesting candidates and polling staff have been made in a comprehensive manner, he said adding that in order to maintain law and order and avoid any breach of peace and public tranquility, inter-district and inter-constituency movement has been restricted. Movement for except for bonafide electors, contesting candidates, authorised polling agents, polling staff and people on medical emergencies, has been restricted, he said. Persons having security cover have also been asked to move only for casting their votes. Seeking cooperation from the public in the peaceful and transparent conduct of final phase of elections in Srinagar district, Kakroo appealed to people not to create any situation which would vitiate the peaceful atmosphere and hamper the exercise of right of franchise. Though there was no untoward incident during electioneering in Jammu and Samba districts, in Srinagar, there were reports of violence against the contesting candidates at several places in downtown city and the uptown civil lines area. In the 2002 elections, National Conference had bagged five of the eight seats with independents bagging two seats and Congress taking the Amirakadal seat. This time, NC, which is contesting all eight seats in Srinagar, is facing a stiff challenge from rivals. The earlier impression that boycott of elections would make it easy for the party to romp home bagging all the seats have been belied following entry of formidable candidates from PDP, Congress, JKNPP and a host of independents. Farooq Abdullah who did not contest 2002 polls is facing a tough challenge from PDP in both Hazratbal and Sonawar. In Hazratbal, he is pitted against PDP's Asiea Naqash and 17 others. In Sonawar, PDP leader G Q Paradesi and 24 other candidates are his opponents. This time, voters who are staying in Jammu and Delhi and having voting strength of about 90,000 votes can swing the fortunes of contestants in case the turnout is low. Polling in the eight constituencies is considered an uphill task in view of influence of separatists who have given a boycott call of the polls and marched to Lal chowk on Wednesday. Militants have also extended support to the boycott call. The Government countered the boycott call, saying, 'A record number of over 30.50-lakh electors, voted in earlier six phases for good governance, development and redressal of grievances, it is your turn now. Choose your representative with a massive mandate for a better tomorrow.'