As Usual, Only Polling In Hazratbal

14 December 2014
Greater Kashmir

Srinagar: On a foggy Sunday morning, 85-year-old Ghulam Muhammad walked through a thick leaf-less poplar tree canopy near his residence at Batapora on Srinagar outskirts to vote at a nearby polling booth. Clad in traditional Kashmiri cloak 'pheran' and holding a kangri (firepot) inside it, the aged man has never missed to cast his vote 'as far as I remember.' 'I am the first person to vote in my locality. And as far as I remember, I have always been the first person to do so,' he told this newspaper at 9 am, barely one hour after the polling started in his constituency-Hazratbal-which recorded an overall turnout of 30 percent. Ghulam Muhammad minces no words in divulging his 'beloved candidate' and also his pro-India loyalty. 'I have always voted for Sheikh Sahib (NC founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah) and I will vote for him for rest of my life,' he said, quickly adding the reason for his voting: 'Sheikh Sahib has done favors after favors on people. How can we forget it?' In the polling booth where Ghulam Muhammad cast his vote, 80 votes had been polled till 9 am. 'People of my age, by and large, vote for Sheikh Sahib's NC, not Farooq Abdullah or Omar Abdullah,' he said. A mere talk of poll boycott call by separatists enrages elderly people in the locality. 'Su kya gow boycott (What do you mean by boycott?)' said another aged man, Muhammad Shaban. 'Hurriyat leaders are running their shops. They don't visit people who die due to bullets, leave aside providing us roads, jobs and other facilities.' In the constituency, polling started on a sluggish note but picked up as the day progressed. At Dargah polling booth, established in a girls high school outside Kashmir University, 200 votes had been cast up to 11 am. 'We voted for change. National Conference has exploited us over the years. We want to give a chance to the Peoples Democratic Party candidate,' said a group of young voters outside the polling booth. In areas like Danihama, Mulfaq, Umerheir, Habak, Nigeen, Saderbal, queues of voters were seen outside polling booths. 'All my family members voted in the morning itself,' said a voter at Fishermen Colony Habak, where 540 votes out of about 900 had been polled till 1 pm. 'I had asked my family members to not waste their vote. There is no wisdom in wasting your vote. At least we can go to the MLA tomorrow and seek his help on issues facing us.' In nearby Meerak Shah Colony, a long queue of voters was seen. 'Hazratbal has been neglected over the years. Post floods, no one from the ruling party came and helped us, not even its candidate in the poll fray,' said a group of voters, who had apparently voted for PDP. In the constituency, there is a neck and neck contest between NC's Muhammad Sayeed Akhoon and PDP's Asiya Naqash. Though a Congress candidate and an independent is in fray, their presence, according to locals, is negligible. While people in Shia-dominated areas like Mir Behri said they voted for National Conference, some belts in the constituency-which has traditionally been a stronghold of National Conference-candidly admitted they have changed their loyalties. They blame ex-MLA Mustafa Kamal for 'all problems the constituency faces.' 'We would always vote for National Conference, but Mustafa Kamal never visited us when we needed him the most,' said a group of residents from main Dargah. The constituency has over 90,000 voters. A number of young people also cast their vote saying 'our vote is for development and end to exploitation.'