Kashmiris defy cold, separatist boycott to cast ballot



Braving the freezing cold and defying a call by separatist groups to boycott assembly polls, 58 percent of voters in Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday turned up to cast their ballot in the third round of the staggered elections.

"There was incident-free polling in all 16 constituencies. Around 58 percent of voters cast their ballot. The percentage is likely to go up when the final figures arrive," state Chief Electoral Officer Umang Narula said at a media conference.

Out of 8,441 Kashmiri Pandit voters, 55 percent exercised their franchise, he said.

The highest turnout of 82.74 percent was recorded in Chrar-i-Sharief, while the lowest of 30 percent was seen in Sopore.

Uri recorded 79 percent, Rafiabad 53, Sangrama 56.15, Baramulla 45, Gulmarg 72, Pattan 60, Chadoora 65, Badgam 70, Beerwah 74, Khansahib 73, Tral 37.68, Pampore 46.48, Pulwama 38.31, and Rajpora 47.07.

Balloting took place after a string of terror attacks Dec 5 left 21 people, including eight soldiers, dead in Kashmir.

No constituency in Jammu region figured in Tuesday's polling.

Voters trickled out in the morning at almost all polling stations to elect their representatives for the 16 assembly segments despite the freezing cold that gripped Kashmir.

As the day progressed and the sun peeped out, more voters thronged the polling booths.

The electorate comprised 717,049 males, 650,476 females and 23 third-gender voters.

Long queues of enthusiastic voters in Kramshore village of Khansahib constituency seemed determined to choose their representatives, and completely ignored the separatist call to stay away from voting.

Of nearly 1,100 voters at this polling station, over 150, including men and women, especially first-time voters, lined up outside the polling station in the first one hour.

The mood among the voters was festive, as most of them said they were out to vote for change.

"I have come out to vote because the only thing that can now make any difference to our backward, neglected village is change. This is a chance we do not want to miss at any cost," Muhammad Shafi, a 42-year-old voter at Kramshore polling station, told IANS.

Over 13 lakh voters were eligible to decide the political fate of 138 candidates in the districts of Baramulla, Budgam and Pulwama at 1,781 polling stations.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Chowdhary Taj Mohiuddin, Ghulam Hassan Mir, Abdul Rahim Rather and Javaid Ahmad Dar were among the prominent candidates.

Undeterred by separatist threats and boycott calls, people stood in long queues in Badgam constituency.

Moderate to brisk voting was seen in Uri, Pattan, Sangrama and Gulmarg, while Sopore witnessed a low turnout.

In Beerwah, from where Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is contesting, voters stood in long queues at booths.

Rajpora, Pulwama and Pampore also saw voters turn up in good numbers as the bright, but weak winter sun shed some warmth over the valley.

There were a few stray incidents of violence.

A grenade was hurled at Khypora police station in Gulmarg. But there were no casualties.

A group of youths attempted to dissuade voters from exercising their franchise in Palhalam town of Pattan constituency by pelting stones, but police chased them away.

The voters, however, remained unfazed.

Over 500 companies of Jammu and Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force were deployed to ensure safe and secure voting. - IANS