Kashmiris defy separatists, brave cold weather to cast ballot
Voters in Jammu and Kashmir defied a boycott call by separatist groups and braved inclement weather to cast their ballot in large numbers as 15 assembly constituencies voted in the first of the five-phase state polls.
State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Umang Narula told the media in Jammu that more than 70 percent of the over one million voters cast their ballot.
Polling was peaceful and no untoward incident was reported from anywhere during the day.
Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi told the media in Delhi that the constituencies had seen 64.97 percent turnout in the 2008 elections and 52.63 percent in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
"It is a good increase. The voting percentage seems to be on the higher side," Zutshi said, adding that there could be an increase of about two percent after all votes cast were taken into account.
A total of 123 candidates were in the fray Tuesday. Polling started at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.
The morning cold affected the early voter turnout, but young and enthusiastic voters queued up, dressed in traditional Kashmiri attire.
A separatist boycott call in the Valley evoked no response, as men and women came out in large numbers to vote.
A 121-year-old woman also cast her ballot.
Zutshi said Noor Bi voted in Ramban district, becoming the oldest person to vote in the first phase.
Voting continued in 13 polling stations even after 4 p.m. as voters had entered the demarcated area before the scheduled end.
The CEO said 31 sorties were made by Mi-7 helicopters and 12 by smaller choppers to ferry polling staff and voting machines to and from inaccessible areas.
"The highest polling was recorded in Sonawari with 80.1 percent, while the lowest was recorded in Ganderbal with 53 percent," Narula said.
Peaceful polling took place at all the 1,787 polling stations in seven districts.
In Ladakh region, Nubra saw 75 percent polling, Zanskar 71.07, Leh 66 and Kargil 59.82.
In the Kashmir Valley, Sonawari recorded 80.1 percent, Kangan 76.83, Bandipora 70 and Gurez 77.1, while in Jammu region, Doda saw 79.6 percent polling, Ramban 68, Bannihal 70, Kishtwar 68.8, Inderwal 72.5 and Bahderwah 70.7.
Polling was low key initially because of the winter cold, especially in the Ladakh region where temperatures were much below freezing point.
As the day progressed, balloting picked up, as voters lined up at polling booths.
People said they were voting for change and development.
"We have decided to participate in the elections to vote for change," said 24-year-old Nisar, who was voting for the first time.
First-time voters were enthusiastic about casting their ballot.
"Yes, I have voted and I have no fear in admitting this. It's time all youth came out to bring change which is only possible through the power of ballot," said 25-year-old Irshad at the Inderkote polling station in Sonawari constituency.
The election commission deputed 225 micro observers, besides webcasting 159 polling stations.
Enthusiasm was palpable in Lar town of Ganderbal constituency as both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party candidates were from this town. A poll official had to ask their supporters to remain calm at a polling booth.
Mamina, a 20-year-old student who voted at the Hariganimen polling booth in Kangan constituency in Ganderbal district, told IANS: "I will vote for somebody who will work for development of this backward area."
Vote count will take place Dec 23 after the last of the five-phase elections ends Dec 20. - IANS