Voters make beeline for polling booths in one-time militancy hive

Voters make beeline for polling booths in one-time militancy hive

Voters make beeline for polling booths in one-time militancy hive

It was a case of the ballot defeating bullets in what was once the hive of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir as an unprecedented number of voters in Chenab Valley braved the extreme cold to come out and exercise their franchise in the first phase of polling for Assembly elections in the state.

The rush of voters, which is also being seen as a rebuff to separatists, was such that by 10 A.M., 15.56 per cent of 78,962 voters had cast their vote in the Kishtwar Assembly segment while Indrawal constituency in Kishtwar district saw 16.84 per cent of 83,631 electors turning up for polling.

Election officials said that for the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the turnout in Chenab Valley at 10 A.M. was around 4 to 5 per cent. In the 2008 Assembly polls, about 7 per cent voters had cast their ballot till 10 A.M.

The threat of terror outfit Lashker-e-Toiba (LeT) trying to disrupt the exercise and the separatists' call for a boycott of the polls seem to have had no effect in Chenab Valley, where polling is underway in six Assembly segments spread across Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts.

"This time, development is the biggest issue. My vote is for change. I give no heed to the separatists' call at all," said 58-year-old Mohammad Sharief of Kishtwar.

"See the huge number of the people coming since morning to vote and the long line of voters awaiting their turn clearly shows that it is a rebuff to the separatists and militants," he added.

Under sub-zero conditions, the scene at polling stations in the once militancy-infested Kishtwar district was one of a high degree of enthusiasm as voters lined up in long, serpentine queues outside polling stations.

Significant as an indication of the positive mood among electors was the turnout in the two areas of Tengala and Talogada in Gandhoh region of Doda district, home to over 130 families affected by the militancy.

The people of these areas, who mostly used to keep away from the polling exercise, this time came out in large numbers to exercise their democratic right. Of the 347 voters registered in Tengala, 238 had voted till 12 nooon while in Talogada, 370 of 876 voters had cast their ballot.

Meanwhile, a senior police officer said that "there is no report of any untoward incident from anywhere during the polling in Chenab Valley", adding that "polling is going on in large numbers".

Development of the area was an issue of considerable importance for the voters here.

"We are just voting for the development of the region and the formation of a government which will ensure employment of the youth with good governance and corruption-free administration," said first-time voter Manit Sharma, who is an engineering student.

Sharma said that the separatists' call for boycott or the threat posed by terror groups would not stop people from voting this time. "I am not cowed down by the threats. My vote is for the establishment of a strong democracy in J-K," he said after casting his vote at the Zewar polling station.