Lok Sabha election phase 1: In Baramulla, a break from violence as 32% cast their votes

Published: April 12, 2019 4:13:45 AM

UNLIKE elections in the past, the atmosphere remained peaceful in Baramulla, with no incidents of stone-pelting or protests, and a voter turnout of 32.41% till 5 pm.

Residents of Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh cast their vote on Thursday. In 2017, this village saw violence between the upper and lower castes. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

By Naveed Iqbal & Arun Sharma

UNLIKE elections in the past, the atmosphere remained peaceful in Baramulla, with no incidents of stone-pelting or protests, and a voter turnout of 32.41% till 5 pm. Baramulla is one of the two parliamentary constituencies that went to polls in the first phase of elections on Thursday.

Together with the Jammu seat, the combined voter turnout in the state at 5 pm stood at 54.5%, slightly lower than the turnout of 56.7% in the 2014 elections in these two constituencies.

In Baramulla, nine candidates are in the fray. The seat witnesses a four-cornered contest between Mohammad Akbar Lone (former speaker of the J&K Assembly) of National Conference, Raja Aijaz Ali Khan, (former state IGP) of People’s Conference, Abdul Qayoom Wani of PDP and Engineer Rashid, former MLA from the Langate Assembly constituency in Handwar.

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Internet connectivity remained shut across districts barring Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal in central Kashmir. Police said it was part of its routine security measure.

As voters trickled into polling booths to elect a new MP for Baramulla, they sought to remind the outside world that Uri, 100 km north of Srinagar, is more than the subject of prime-time television debates and a movie title, with every beep of the Electronic Voting Machine.

“Apna numainda chunna zaroori hai, taaki hamien koi bhool na jaaye (It is important to choose one’s representative, so that we are not forgotten),” said 88-year-old Haji Mohammad Sabir Mir. His walking stick shaking in his hands, he votes in every election. “Our leaders say one thing here and another outside the state. But still, we have concerns — the youth need jobs, and we need respite from the endless talk of war,” said Mir.

At the Uri degree college, first-time voter Rabia Ali said, “We need representatives who won’t abandon us. That is my hope.” In the 2014 elections, the Baramulla parliamentary constituency comprising 15 Assembly segments, recorded 39.14% voting, the highest among the three Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir region. While Sopore witnessed deserted polling booths, voters were enthusiastic in Handwara.

Around 2 pm, troops at a Pakistani post in Chakla area across Munawar Tawi fired half a dozen rounds of small arms at frequent intervals. Nearly 500 m away on the opposite bank of the river, stood men and women in queue within the premises of the Government Middle School, Bardoh, eagerly waiting for their turn to press the EVM button as their reply to gun rotting Pakistani soldiers across the Line of Control.

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Bardoh, the last Indian village along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir’s Akhnoor sector, has a total of 986 voters. The school, in which polling station has been set up, too happened to be the last building along the LoC towards Pakistan side. The shots fired by Pakistani troops were clearly audible to people standing in queue at the polling station, but none of them seemed to pay any heed. By 2 pm, nearly 45% of them, mostly females, had cast their vote.

Polling was brisk even at the Lower High School in Kalal area of Nowshera . By 1 pm, nearly 50% of the 637 electorate had cast their votes at the polling station.

There were complaints of EVMs not working at some polling stations in Poonch. The polling in Shahpur was stopped for a while when people found that the EVM button opposite the Congress symbol was not working. People at a polling station in Mandi held demonstration alleging they were being compelled by a para military official to vote for a particular party.

Deputy commissioner, Poonch, Rahul Yadav, said complaints about EVM malfunctioning were received from only four polling stations out of a total 451 stations in the district. The EVMs were soon replaced, he added.

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