Amid sporadic clashes Budgam registers 21 % voting

During 2017 by-election to Srinagar parliamentary constituency the government school-turned polling station in Kralpora was the battleground between protesting youth and security forces. That day, on April 7, the area was swept by massive protests, like several other parts in central Kashmir. Today, an eerie calm enveloped the area. The voting center had been turned into garrison.

In the afternoon the polling staff was out, in the ground, basking under the spring sun. In the three voting centers, with 2530 votes, only 19 persons had exercised their franchise.

One among them was Ghulam Qadir Bhat, who described himself an “old National Conference loyalist”.

“I’m a National Conference supporter since childhood,” said 67-year old Bhat, reiterating that he doesn’t shy away from making his political affiliation public.

Then, the elderly man with sunken face left in huff. “These discussions won’t yield anything. I’m going to get my family members to vote,” he said while disappearing in the lane.

The atmosphere outside the polling booth was in sharp contrast to the mood inside. There, youth from locality, huddled in small groups, on shop fronts and roadside, talked about the “disgrace these men” (referring to those who voted) bring to us”.

“Please do write that we didn’t vote, not a single youth from the locality voted,” said a burly youth in his mid 20s, whispering his resentment.

Ahead of Kralpora, in Wathoora, a village located on banks of Doodganga nallah, and divided by Srinagar-Charari-Sharief road, only security forces were visible inside a higher secondary school that had been turned into booth, at 1 pm.

“Only two elderly men came to vote in the morning. When we too are waiting for somebody to turn up,” said a CRPF man on duty. Inside, a polling officer conformed that just 2 of the 823 votes had been polled.

In the 2017 by-election to the constituency spread over three districts – Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal – nine civilians were killed and dozens injured when protesting youth clashed with the security forces at several places. The segment witnessed 7.14 percent turnout, lowest ever in its electoral history, after re-polling in 38 polling stations.

That time Budgam recorded 8.82 percent voting. Today, the overall voting percentage went up to 21, almost three times higher, in a contest in which National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah is facing challenge from PDP’s Aga Syed Mohsin, PC’s Irfan Raza Ansari and BJP’s Khalid Jehangir .

In Budgam constituency including the town and its adjoining areas, the voting pattern was comparatively on the higher side. Though long queues were missing outside booths a steady trickle of people flowed in.

A woman who came out from a government office turned into booth, after casting her vote, said for a while she was in dilemma whom to vote for – Mohsin or NC’s Aga Syed Rohullah.

“They are uncle and nephew, it was difficult to choose, but I voted for the one we have supported in the past,” she said hinting that she voted for NC.

Similarly the voting percentage was higher in Beerwah, the constituency that was represented by NC’s vice president Omar Abdullah; parts of Chadoora, Charari-Sharief and Khansahab constituencies. 

But there were areas which witnessed intense clashes like Nasrullahpora – a village located barely three kms from the Budgam town. Throughout the day youth fought pitched battles with security forces in and around the locality housing the polling booth.

As the clashes raged on the security forces fired teargas shells and pellets to disperse the protesting youth who would re-assemble to engage the security forces again. Only two of over 2800 voted had been polled by late afternoon.

There were reports of clashes from other places like Hafroo and main town of Charar-i-Sharief. Three persons including a women received pellet injuries in Hafroo area of Chadoora while as clashes were going till later afternoon in Char town.