Fear was palpable on the faces of people in this south Kashmir district on the day of polling on Thursday with recent terror attacks on panchayat members and politicians vitiating the atmosphere. The poll boycott call by separatists added fuel to the fire.
Nobody in the militancy-infested Tral town was ready to talk to media openly as to why they were abstaining from voting. However, through whispers they were seen telling each other that they don’t want to meet the fate of sarpanch Ghulam Nabi Mir, who was killed with his son three days earlier in Batgund area of the Tral, 35 km from Srinagar.
People in large numbers were seen visiting Mir’s residence to offer condolences to the bereaved family. Just a few hundred meters away from the deceased sarpanch’s house, in Batgund-24-B polling booth, no vote had been cast till 3 pm. The booth has 682 votes.
At polling booth number 23-A Batgund, out of 765 votes only one vote had been cast till 3:10 pm. The situation was same in most of the polling booths in Tral and Pulwama Assembly constituencies where even there were no polling agents present.
“Early in the morning we had to take help from police and CRPF personnel for mock polling drill as agents of none of the political parties dared to enter the booth,” Ali Mohammad, presiding officer of polling booth 23-A Batgund told Deccan Herald.
Several threat posters of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen outfit appearing in the main market of Tral warned “agents of the NC, PDP and Congress that their refusal to desist from polling would mean their death. “We have declared the war,” the Urdu-typeset and laser-printed posters pasted on walls in the town warned.
About 20 km from Tral this scribe visited the house of another Sarpanch who was killed last Thursday by unidentified militants in Gulzarpora, Awantipora in Pulwama. His brother Abdul Rahim Pandith told Deccan Herald that they don’t know who killed his innocent brother and why.
“When my brother contested Panchayat elections (PoK based) Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salah-ud-Din in press statements said they have no concern with it. If militants have no concern with polls then who killed me brother,” the wailing Pandith said.