44 p.c. turnout in first phase of J&K elections
16 September 2002
BARAMULLA/ KUPWARA: Amid coercion by security forces, a partial election boycott, a general strike call given by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, and a spate of militant attacks in which a policeman was killed and eight persons were injured, the first phase of elections in five districts of Jammu and Kashmir was completed today with zero to brisk polling. A complete strike was observed in the Kashmir Valley in response to the Hurriyat call. All the shops, business establishments, offices and banks were closed. Traffic was also off the road. The Hurriyat, which also called for an election boycott, alleged that the security forces coerced the people to vote as ''the Government wants to thrust elections on Kashmiris.'' The Chief Electoral Officer, Pramod Jain, said that the overall voting percentage in Baramulla, Rajouri, Kupwara, Poonch and Kargil districts was 44. Kargil recorded the highest of 67 per cent voting, followed by 48 per cent in Poonch, 47 per cent in Rajouri, 40 per cent in Kupwara and 37 per cent in Baramulla. There was unmistakable determination among the voters in a few segments to exercise their franchise, and in some others people were equally determined not to do so. In yet others, fear was a major factor, which kept the people away. At least five segments out of 15 in Kupwara and Baramulla witnessed brisk polling. People defied militant threats and a ''hartal'' called by the Hurriyat. But, the turnout in many other segments was extremely low with the number of votes polled in many stations remaining in single digits at the end of the day. Till late afternoon, most of the polling booths in Pattan, Sangrama, Sopore and Baramulla wore a deserted look. At 8 a.m., only 13 out of 958 voters had exercised their franchise at the Delina polling station near Baramulla. In Pattan too, only 13 of the 1,298 votes had been cast at 7.30 a.m. In Baramulla town, the residents categorically said that they were not going to vote. ''We will not vote, come what may. We will not allow the sacrifice of 80,000 people to go in vain,'' said an angry resident of the Bag-i- Islam locality. Enthusiasm among the people to vote seemed strong in the most important segment of Handwara, Kupwara district, where a former People'' Conference member, Mohiuddin Sofi, is pitted against the National Conference nominee and Minister, Mohammad Ramzan. ''It is something beyond my imagination,'' a journalist, who has covered all the four elections held here since 1996, said. Long queues outside the polling booth in Handwara town indicated a complete change in the mood of the people. Handwara, however, also obliged the Hurriyat by observing a complete ''hartal.'' ''There is no coercion, we are here voluntarily,'' said Zamruda. This was also the case at Wadipora village, around 7 km from Handwara. However, in Nutnusa village on the Sopore-Kupwara road, where a tent in an open field was converted into a booth, long queues of voters alleged that the Army had forced them to come out for voting. Like Handwara, Kupwara town also witnessed brisk polling and people did not complain about any coercion. This was also the case in Trehgam. The villagers in Seelo village on the same road, however, alleged that the security forces had forced them out of their homes. The Bandipora segment wore a sharp contrast. At mid-day, Nadihal had recorded a two per cent turnout. In Aitmula, 12 voters out of 1,333 had cast their votes at 12.30 p.m. in the two polling booths. Booth 24 in Watpura bucked the trend with 389 of the 842 votes being cast. Here, the People''s Conference supporters alleged that the elections were rigged and that people whose names were not on the voters'' list had votedIn Sopore, the scene was grim. At the three polling booths in Warapore, no voter out of 2,880 turned out until 3 p.m. The ''hartal'' here was complete. And in 10 polling stations of Sopore town, only 25 of the over 9,900 votes had been cast by 3.30 p.m.