J-K polls evoke good response, voters defy threat
15 January 2001
The Hindustan Times
Jammu: DEFYING THREATS and boycott calls by militants and the Hurriyat Conference, Jammu and Kashmir on Moday kept its date with panchayat polls after a gap of 23 years and registered 65 to 87 per cent polling in the first phase. The turnout by voters was the highest since May 1996, when parliamentary elections were held in the state after a gap of seven years. The Assembly and two more parliamentary elections that followed registered far lower than today’s best. The first phase saw polling in 125 panchayats—60 in Rajouri, 38 in Poonch and 27 in Kupwara, all the three districts bordering Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The official figures reveal that Poonch witnessed 65 per cent polling, while Rajouri registered 87 per cent and Kupwara 60 to 65 percent. Polling started at 9 am and concluded at 2 pm without any major incident of violence anywhere. Director General of Police Ashok Kumar Suri told The Hindustan Times that the first phase of the panchayat polls had “passed off peacefully”. Suri said that the 'large participation of the people in the panchayat polls despite threats by militants has shown that they have decried the gun and have voted for democracy”. He admitted that there were security constraints, but said that did not affect the arrangements. “There was adequate security at the polling booths”. The heavy voter turnout has emboldened officials, who were keeping their fingers crossed after militant groups like Hiz-bul Mujahideen had threatened to disrupt the polls. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) had called for a boycott of the polls saying that it was a “bid to sabotage the peace process”. Some opposition groups too had raised doubts about the panchayat polls and launched a campaign against the panchayat polls and its timings alleging that it was a clear case of sabotaging the peace process that was underway. Some media groups too had launched a campaign along these lines. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah said that the participation by the people should serve as an eyeopener for critics of the panchayat polls. 'It is my commitment to impart power to the people and I will go ahead with this democratic process come what may,' he said. Altogether, 1,667 candidates in the three districts were standing for posts in 125 panchayats. The voters had to face freezing temperatures as well as calls from militant groups for a boycott of the polls. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen said the polls were a 'conspiracy' to undermine the Kashmir separatist movement. 'Taking part in any polls under the Indian dispensation is bound to cause harm to the on-going movement,' a Hizbul statement said. The polls were being held just a day after Hizbul militants fired two grenades at Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.