Amid complete shutdown and clashes, Kulgam district on Monday went to polls in the second phase for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. However, the district largely witnessed boycott barring in some traditional vote-bank pockets where mild polling took place.
Gaunt-faced, skinny villager Abdul Rasheed was among the early-risers in southern Kashmir’s Kulgam district on Monday morning. By daybreak, as military-ringed polling booths came alive, mostly with jackboots, the simpleton stealthily walked out to cast the ballot.
His move, however, defied the larger poll boycott mood that dominated the district.
But the 45-year-old man had his own “reasons” to exercise the franchise in Noorabad area, where—unlike restive Khudwani, Redwani and Quimoh areas, long queues had fallen, and surged, before the polling booths, as the day progressed.
“The area lacks proper drinking water facility and good road connectivity,” Rasheed said. “We need someone who can deliver. In the previous election, the candidates promised us development but did nothing.”
However, majority of the polling booths in Kulgam and its adjacent areas were empty and wore a deserted look as people preferred to stay away from the ballot. The day was marked by shutdown called by the Joint Resistance Leadership, clashes, internet gag and tight security arrangements by the authorities.
A group of sullen and solemn men who were standing miles away from the polling booth in Kulgam town blamed the previous government led by PDP-BJP for killing innocent people and to push the valley into a vortex of violence.
“We cannot choose our murderers,” one of them said. “In the past we have been suppressed by the ones we elected. We cannot make the same mistake again now.”
Since the popular militant commander Burhan Wani’s passage in 2016 summer, Kulgam has been witnessing raging protests. The altered ground equations catalysed by the sizeable insurgent recruitment forced the establishment to declare all 433 polling booths in Kulgam as ‘hypersensitive’. The late Sunday evening clashes, hours before the polling itself gave away the ground mood.
“What is there to vote for,” asked a youth in Homshalibugh, “to strengthen the already heightened military dominance over our lives?” The youth detailed how Kulgam has been at the receiving end of military offensive from the last two and a half years.
“The puppets once again seeking votes from us have been themselves stripped bare by their unrelenting Delhi masters. What losers!”
If something defined the polling mood in Kulgam on Monday, it was the growing disillusionment and anger towards the electoral politics. “Last time when some of us fell in line to vote for PDP to stop the BJP’s so-called Mission Kashmir, Mufti’s party tricked us and instead brought Sangh in the valley,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a villager in Redwani, which witnessed an overwhelming boycott.
At several places, protesters had blocked the roads by placing wooden logs and resorted to stone pelting on the armed forces who responded by using tear gas shells leaving several injured.
Many protesters sustained pellet injuries and were taken to different hospitals for treatment.
Due to security reasons in the district with 3.45-lakh registered voters, the polling ended at 4.00 pm, instead of usual 6.00 pm. It was on the state police’s request that the Election Commission of India had to change the poll timing for the district.
But despite boycott, people came out in a large number to cast their vote in Noorabad (Damhal Hanjipora) and Devsar areas.
By the end of the day, Kulgam district polled a little over 9 per cent—with major share from Noorabad and Devsar, the pockets having a sizeable pro-India party sway.
A total of 18 candidates are in the fray in this constituency, but the main contest is between PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and Congress’ GA Mir. National Conference (NC) has fielded Justice (Retired) Hasnain Masoodi, while BJP has fielded Sofi Yusuf. In addition, there’s a lone woman candidate, Ridwana Sanam who is contesting as an Independent candidate. Moreover, for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir, a non-local Shams Khwaja, a lawyer from Uttar Pradesh is also contesting.
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