Ultras fear keeps voters indoor
1 October 2002
Tral: Polling began in Tral with the background noise of staccato gunfire — militants in mountain forests warning residents not to vote. Voters who ignored the pointed message were given security but in some cases, the warning proved too strong. Some voters went back home. Some security personnel were injured. Voting, relatively low as it seemed, was still the only visible activity. The hum of quotidian life had otherwise died in this area. Fields deserted, doors and windows bolted, the main square looking as if the town is under curfew — Tral didn’t look ready to brave death for democracy. In polling booth No. 44, set up in a horticulture department office, not a single vote was cast till 1.15 p.m.. About 1,330 people were expected to vote here. Sitting in a dingy room along with other officers, a polling officer told The Statesman that since morning not a single person has turned up. “We asked for tea from the villagers. They refused. When they were requested to cast their votes, they refused again,” he said. So high is the threat perception that even the BSP candidate, who happens to be his party’s agent, hadn’t turned up. Not surprisingly though, there were a few allegations of forced voting. A dozen people turned up at a poll booth. They protested and alleged that they were forced out from Civil Lines area to cast their votes. But when this correspondent went to Civil Lines area to cross- check, residents denied any strong tactic by security forces. In the Devsar constituency, a group of about 200 voters stopped this correspondent’s vehicle in the Waripura village. Their anger, they said, was about security forces beating up a boy who had come from Amritsar. But upon given a hearing, the complaints were about security forces in general not about any Amritsar boy catching the rough end of Kashmir politics. Still more puzzling, all anger seemed to dissipate once the vehicle started moving. Protesters were laughing, backslapping. In Devsar’s Baitangu, out of 340 voters in poll booth No. 19, only 16 had cast their votes till 10.45 a.m.. “This is a hypersensitive constituency and everyone fears militants,” a local said. ‘Coercion’ alleged: In Anantnag and Pulwama districts of south Kashmir, unwilling voters were allegedly taken to polling booths at gunpoint by security forces, SNS adds. Though people came out on their own in some of the pockets of these districts of south Kashmir which have witnessed much violence in the past few years, yet in most of the areas, people complained of intimidation by the security forces. The unwillingness in south was in stark contrast to the first two phases where there were enough willing voters in Kupwara-Baramulla and Budgam. But in 16 constituencies of Anantnag and Pulwama there were hardly any willing voters. But anti-incumbency wave was quite prominent in the entire region. At many places the “intimidation” by security forces mostly Rashtriya Rifles proved counter-productive as people resisted every forcible “gesture” that the troops made. In Anantnag town, police used lathicharge to disperse a stone-pelting mob who took to streets after security forces wanted them to vote.