J&K panchayat polls:74% polling

Voting began at 8 AM at 3,296 polling stations -- 1,303 in Kashmir and 1,993 in Jammu -- and would end at 2 PM, officials said. PTI Photo/ representation only 

 Despite threats by militants to disrupt the poll process and boycott call by the separatists, nearly 74.1% electorate exercised their right to franchise during the first phase of panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday.
 
Poll officials said Ganderbal district in Kashmir region recorded lowest of 11.9% polling followed by Srinagar with 21.8%, Budgam 30.1% Bandipora 55.7%, Baramulla 69.1% and Kuppwara 71.9%. Leh district in the cold desert region of Ladakh witnessed 59.7% polling while neighbouring Kargil recorded 70.9%.
 
In Jammu region, they said, Udhampur district recorded the highest turnout with 83.6% voters exercising their franchise while Doda witnessed 80.8%, Kathua 80%, Rajouri 78.9% and Poonch 78.7%. In Kishtwar district, where militants killed a senior BJP leader and his brother early this month to derail the poll process, 74.1% polling was witnessed in five blocks including Marwah, Warwan, Dachhan, Paddar and Bounjwan. Recently JK governor Satya Pal Malik said that BJP leader and his brother were killed by militants to “disrupt” the panchayat elections.
 
The polling was free of any untoward incident at all places, poll officials said, adding that it was brisk since morning. Due to militant threats, boycott calls by the separatists and decision of regional parties PDP and NC to stay away from the recently concluded urban local bodies (ULB) polls, only 4.27 per cent polling was witnessed in Kashmir region, which was the lowest in any election held in the state since 1951.
 
However, today’s brisk voting was the reminder of 2011 Panchayat polls when 82% voters exercised their right to franchise. The polling for remaining eight phases be held on November 20, 24, 27, 29, December 1, 4, 8, and 11 in all 22 districts of the state. At least 4400 sarpanchs and 29000 panchs will be elected in Jammu and Kashmir.
 
While separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Miwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have urged people to observe shutdown against “yet another election drama” being enacted by the “oppressive regime” of New Delhi on November 17, the militants have threatened to blind panchayat poll candidates with acid.
 
Panchayat elections were last held in 2011 after a 33-year hiatus in Jammu and Kashmir. In the 2005 municipal polls and the 2011 panchayat polls, enthusiastic voters had defied militant threats to come out in vast numbers to strengthen grassroots democracy.
 
Authorities had made elaborate arrangements for holding violence-free polls with 200 companies of paramilitary forces, which were deployed for recently-held urban local body elections, re-deployed for the panchayat polls. 
 
“The panchayat polls are more challenging than the ULB polls in terms of the vastness of the poll-area involved. All the concerns have been taken care of while framing the security plan,” Additional Director General Police (ADGP) Munir Khan said.
 
The security plan, he said, includes area domination, night patrolling and securing polling booths. “Possible threats to the contesting candidates will be taken care of,” he said.
 
The polls are being held at a time when the State is under Governor’s rule after the fall of Mehbooba Mufti-led government following withdrawal of support to it by the BJP.
 
After last panchayat polls held in 2011, at least 16 sarpanchs and panchs were killed while dozens of others injured by the militants.

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J&K panchayat polls:74% polling

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