Kashmir polls see highest turnout in 25 years, 76 percent in last phase
Braving the winter chill, an astounding over 13 lakh people, or 76 percent of the electorate, Saturday turned out to vote in the fifth and final round of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections. Officials termed the turnout "historic and unprecedented" and the highest in the last 25 years.
This brought down the curtains on the staggered five-phase elections that were largely peaceful, barring a major terror attack Dec 5 in which 21 people, including eight soldiers, were killed.
State chief electoral officer Umang Narula told IANS that balloting was "peaceful and incident-free", and there was no firing from across the border to disrupt the polling process.
He said the fifth phase saw 76 percent turnout, the highest among all the rounds.
Narula said the overall turnout was 66 percent, while it was 56 percent in the 2008 elections. The tenure of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly is six years.
Of the 20 constituencies in Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts, 11 saw turnouts of 80 percent or more.
Bani constituency in Kathua recorded the highest turnout of 83.2 percent, while Gandhinagar in Jammu saw the lowest of 60 percent.
Though polling, which took place in Jammu region, was peaceful, village headman Gulam Ahman Bhat was killed by terrorists in Kashmir's Baramulla district. He was the third village headman to be killed since the poll process started in October.
Meanwhile, three police complaints were registered, including one against Congress candidate Manohar Lal Sharma from Billawar for allegedly beating up two police officials.
In New Delhi, Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi told the media the turnout was "historic" and "unprecedented".
For Jammu and Kashmir, it was the highest polling percentage in the last 25 years, he said.
After a dull start Saturday morning, voters started lining up at polling stations as the fog lifted and the day warmed up. Polling started at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.
Over 18 lakh voters were eligible to decide the fate of 213 candidates.
"(We are taking) no chances this time. The candidate for whom I voted will bring in change and ensure that youth get jobs, elderly people get good health care and development reaches our village," said 32-year-old Jugul Kumar in Rajpura village of Raipur Domana constituency.
Sheetal, a 24-year-old who was among the first voters at a polling station in Jammu, said: "I am sure I have voted for the candidate who will work against corruption and give opportunities to youth according to their talent and not family lineage."
At a model polling station in Gandhinagar, arrangements were made by poll officials to serve tea to the voters.
Adequate arrangements were made in polling stations close to the international border and the Line of Control in Jammu, district election officer Ajeet Kumar Sahu told IANS.
Arrangements were also made to shift polling stations to safer locations if there was any firing from across the border, he said.
In Jammu district's Chhamb constituency, the majority of voters were farmers who also rear milch cattle.
As IANS tried to restrain the conversation to voting and future expectations, the voters vented their anger over lack of development before talking about anything else.
"You have seen this road? It has not been metalled nor black-topped since 1998. It has been the same for the last 18 years. What is true of the road is true of everything else here," said Pratap Singh, a 45-year-old taxi driver from Hamirpur village.
"Whatever the ultimate result of the assembly elections elsewhere, we are voting for change. Our lives have become hell due to border shelling and complete neglect by the people in power," he said. - IANS