Heavy turnout in militancy infested blocks; 77.1% vote21 May 2011
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Militancy-infested blocks of Banihal, Balakote, Thathri, Assar and Inderwal in four districts of Jammu region recorded a huge turn-out in 10th phase of Panchayat elections today defying threats by the militants. Significantly, 45 year old Haneefa Begum, who was made widow by the militants by killing her husband Abdul Gani on May 16 for campaigning for a candidate, turned out for voting at village Kuwath in Durbel Panchayat Halqa of Inderwal block in Kishtwar district. Entire village came out in support of Haneefa and soon large queues were seen in the village for voting this morning. In 11 blocks of 10 districts of Jammu and Kashmir regions that went to polls today, 77.1 per cent electorates (2.99 lakh from a total of 3.88 lakh) exercised their right to franchise, official sources said. A total of 304 Sarpanches and 2160 Panches were involved in today’s polling. Of them, 19 Sarpanches and 578 Panches including 213 females had been elected as unopposed. Twenty persons including four police personnel were injured in incidents of stoning and lathicharge at three polling stations of Naika Majari in Balakote block of Poonch district after supporters of rival candidates clashed over alleged bogus voting. Polling was suspended in Panch Ward No. 2 of Panchayat Halqa Bhagwan Chak in Khour block of Jammu district as election symbol of one of the contestants, Gullian Devi had been changed. A re-poll would be held in the Ward at a later date. No militancy-related incident was reported from any area of 11 blocks, most of which were militancy-infested, where polling was held today. Voting at all places passed off peacefully barring stray incidents of violence. Chief Electoral Officer-cum-Home Secretary, B R Sharma supervised the polling process. Voting in Khour block, bordering Pakistan in Akhnoor tehsil of Jammu district, was completely peaceful, Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, Sanjeev Verma said. He added that people in the villages bordering Pakistan voted fearlessly. In today’s polling, highest turnout of 87 per cent was recorded in Teetwal block of Kupwara district followed by 86.5 per cent in Khour block of Chhamb Assembly segment in Akhnoor district. Lowest turnout of 61 per cent was recorded in Keller (Main Block) of Pulwama district. Voting percentage in other blocks included Pattan, Baramulla (65), Hajin, Bandipora (83.7), Dachnipora, Anantnag (73), Inderwal, Kishtwar (82), Assar, Doda (84), Thathri, Doda (74.5), Banihal, Ramban (83.9) and Balakote, Poonch (85). Haneefa Begum, widow of Abdul Gani, who was beheaded by the militants on the intervening night of May 15 and 16 for supporting a candidate in Panchayat elections, came out for voting at her native village Kuwath in Panchayat Halqa Durbel in Inderwal block of Kishtwar district braving all odds as her husband had been killed only five days back. Gani had headed the Panchayat previously but was not contesting the elections this time. Haneefa waited in the queue for 10 to 15 minutes to cast her vote. As Haneefa turned up for voting, entire village accompanied her and cast their votes. Nearly 100 per cent voting was recorded at Kuwath polling station giving a strong rebuff to the militants, who had killed Abdul Gani to ensure that the people didn’t vote in the Panchayat elections. 'I came out to vote so that sacrifice of my husband didn’t go waste’’, she said after casting her vote. Haneefa was accompanied by her two sons, Farooq Ahmed, 8, and Gulzar Ahmed, 14. Though they didn’t have voting rights, they pledged to cast their votes when they turned 18. 'What was the fault of our father? Why was he killed by the militants?’’ the boys asked. A large number of local people supported Haneefa for casting her vote and cursed Abdul Jabbar, who was arrested yesterday, Ishaq Ahmed Lone and Khursheed Ahmed for killing Gani. Two sisters Zarifa Begum and Sabina Begum, who were contesting the election of Panch from Ward Nos. 7 and 9 of Durbel Panchayat Halqa in Inderwal won the elections. In Naka Majari Upper polling station in Balakote block of Poonch district, trouble erupted when a voter had to return as his vote had already been cast. This was objected to by the supporters of one of the contestants, who alleged bogus voting by their rivals. After heated exchanges, supporters of the two candidates started stone pelting at each other. Para-military and police personnel intervened and chased away the warring groups. The clash continued for an hour in which 20 persons including four cops sustained minor injuries. Polling remained suspended for over an hour at Naka Majari. At Naka Majari Lower and Middle polling stations also, voting was suspended briefly on the allegations and counter allegations by the candidates over bogus voting. SSP Poonch Ashkoor Wani, Deputy Commissioner Ajit Kumar Sahu and SHO Gursai Aslam Choudhary camped at Naka Majari and restored law and order, leading to resumption of voting. At Kalan Morha in Ward No. 6 of Balakote, polling was suspended ay 8.45 am as one of the Panch candidates claimed that his election symbol had been tampered with. Reports said it was not only Kuwath area of Inderwal block but people in Banihal, Balakote and Thathri, three other militancy-infested blocks turned out in large numbers to cast their votes even in the areas where there was still presence of the militants. 'Unmindful of the militant threats, the people including a large number of women, had queued up in Banihal, Balakote, Assar and Thathri blocks to cast their votes. Even there was no fear of militants in remote and upper reaches of these blocks’’, reports received here said. Authorities had made elaborate security arrangements for the elections in all sensitive areas of 11 blocks that went to polls in 10th phase of elections. The process of Panchayat elections would culminate on June 18 with 16th phase. Counting for 285 posts of Sarpanches and 1581 posts of Panches was taken up immediately after the voting process concluded in the afternoon. Out of 304 Sarpanch and 2160 Panch constituencies involved in today’s voting, 19 Sarpanches and 578 Panches had been elected unopposed while voting was deferred in one Panch constituency. Most of the results had been declared by late tonight and the polling process would be over by tomorrow morning, the Election Department said. Re-poll was also held today for Panch constituency No. 8 of Panchayat Halqa Harinara in Singhpora block of Baramulla district and Panch constituency No. 3 of Bhagocha Chack of Panchayat Halqa Bhaiya in Hiranagar block of Kathua district where 82.9 and 80 per cent voting was recorded. Out of a total of 17,197 votes in Balakote block of Poonch, 14,617 were polled while in Khour block of Jammu, 50,891 electorates exercised their franchise from a total of 58,833 votes. In Ramban block of Banihal, 25,005 votes were polled from 29,793 while in Thathri block of Doda, 23,817 people exercise their franchise from amongst 31,969. In Assar block of Doda, 14,773 people cast their votes out of a total of 17,587. In Inderwal block of Kishtwar, 19,386 electorates exercised their right to franchise from a total of 23,641. In Kashmir region, 50,584 votes were polled in Dachnipora block of Anantnag district from a total of 69,293. In Keller (Main Block) of Pulwama district, 22,099 votes were polled from 36,228 while at Hajin block of Bandipora, 37,739 people voted from 45,089. In Pattan block of Baramulla, 30,739 electorates polled their votes from 47,291 while in Teetwal block of Kupwara, 9870 voted were polled from 11,345. A total of 971 candidates were in fray for Sarpanch constituencies while 3198 contestants including 1001 females were in race for Panch segments. Five Sarpanches were elected unopposed in Pattan block, seven in Keller block, two each in Teetwal and Thathri blocks and one each in Dachnipora, Inderwal and Khour. Highest number of 101 Panches had been elected unopposed in Pattan block, 45 in Teetwal, 15 in Hajin, 88 in Keller, 40 in Dachnipora, 65 in Inderwal, 20 at Assar, 70 at Thathri, 56 at Banihal, 46 at Khour and 32 at Balakote. Our Srinagar correspondent adds- Like the earlier phases, people in large numbers came out and exercised their franchise at different polling booths. The characteristic feature of this election has been overwhelming participation of the people and same was witnessed even today. The electorate came out to vote hoping that their elected representatives would solve their problems they encounter on daily basis. 'People living in the villages are up against many problems and same holds true with our block. We are facing problems on account of potable drinking water and bad roads. We wish that these are solved by the people whom we have elected and hopefully they would deliver the goods,' said Abdul Haq, a resident of Dachnipora block. 'This is an opportune time to elect honest and upright candidate so that our problems are solved. If we fail to do so then we may not be able to achieve the path of progress and prosperity. We need development in our area and same is possible only when the team of Sarpanch and Panches is strong,' said Khazir Mohammad, one of the voters of Dachnipora block. Pattan area has always been vulnerable to militancy related incidents and the successful holding of elections at this place was a big challenge for the authorities. Here too people were concerned about their daily problems and wanted a solution to same. 'The Panchayat elections are being held for administrative purposes and it has nothing to do with the politics. We have come out to vote for a better future in form of clean drinking water, good roads and better connectivity. If we don't vote then all these things are not possible,' said a group of voters at Pattan block. Long queues of people were also witnessed in Hajin block of Bandipora district as well. The developmental issues also hogged the agenda of the voters here and they too wanted a solution to the same. 'We don't live far away from Srinagar, summer capital of the State, but still then we face many problems. The elected representatives should look into these problems otherwise we would continue to suffer. The Government has not listened to our pleas so far, maybe the Panches and Sarpanches would come to our rescue,' said Ali Mohammad, a resident of Hajin. Reports of large voter turnout have also come in from the Keller and Teetwal blocks as people since morning had assembled outside polling booths in both these blocks to exercise their franchise. Despite their pre-occupation people came out happily so as to cast their vote during the 10th phase of Panchayat elections.