Jammu border residents vote for 'peace, security'

Brisk polling was recorded in border areas of Samba and Jammu districts which went to polls in the first phase of LokSabha elections on Thursday. Most voters said they voted to see “sustainable peace” on the borders.

Residents of Vijaypur, Samba and Bishnah stepped out of their homes in heavy numbers from early morning to cast their votes. Around 78 percent voters voted in Bishnah segment of Jammu district, followed by 76.62 percent in Samba and 74.91 percent in Vijaypur, at the end of the polling day.

Residents of Arnia—the largest border town situated very close to the international border (IB) in Bishnah—participated in the electoral exercise to “get rid of daily problems and ensure availability of basic amenities”.

RohitKhajuria, a retired army soldier, said: “Many things have been done in the past few years. The Border Roads Organisation has constructed a good road up to the border, but lot more needs to be done for the welfare of common masses”.

“Border areas lack basic amenities. When ceasefire violations occur, we run from pillar to post for ambulances or medical facilities. We expect the new government to take care of all these things,” he said.

“When Pakistani army resorts to shelling on LoC villages, we start packing our bags and get ready to shift to safer places. We are voting to see permanent peace prevailing along the borders and ensure that safety of border residents is considered as a priority,” said Shakuntala Devi, a border resident.

70-year-old ChamanLal Sharma, a voter in RakhAabTali, a village close to the border in Samba district, said: “The country is unaware of problems being faced by the border residents in J&K. First and foremost, we want an atmosphere of peace at our homes and secondly, we want all basic amenities to be in place in case of an emergency.”

“It’s time to choose a representative who would raise the voice of border residents in the parliament,” he said.

LAST VILLAGE ON INDO-PAK BORDER SEES BRISK POLLING

They have lost their homes and belongings in cross-border firing and shelling, but not their faith in parliamentary democracy and hope for a peaceful and better future. For the 400-odd voters of Jorafarm, the last village on the Indian side of the International Border with Pakistan, the party of choice may vary but their expectations from the new government are same: lasting peace and development.

The village, just 400 metres from the border fence, is part of the Jammu parliamentary constituency where polling was held in the first of the seven-phase LokSabha polls on Thursday.

It was a special day for the villagers, young and old alike, as it rekindled their hope. Early in the morning, most residents set out in horse-carts to reach the polling booth, set up in nearby Jajwal village, about one-and-a-half km away.

“We voted for peace and development…Peace is imperative because every time Pakistan targets forward posts and villages, we bear the brunt,” 35-year-old Mohammad Shafi told PTI. 

Shafi, who was returning from the polling station along with his minor son after casting his vote, said the new government needs to pay more attention towards their problems and help improve their living standard.

“Look at the condition of our village…It lacks basic facilities such as drinking water supply and proper road, despite suffering immensely due to Pakistani shelling,” he said.

More than 100 families reside in Jorafarm, about 35 km from Jammu. In 2018, most kullas (mud houses) in the village were burnt due to Pakistani shelling twice: in January and May. A large number of buffaloes and horses were also killed.

At least six people were injured and more than 30 mud houses were destroyed in another incident of cross-border firing in September, 2017. Prior to that in 2014, Jorafarm-resident Mohammad Akram and his two-year-old son were killed in alleged Pakistani shelling.

However, the village, popularly known as the “hamlet of Gujjar milkmen”, has witnessed peace in the past few months as there was no incident of firing from the Pakistani side, even when tension mounted between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama attack on February 14, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.

After most houses were damaged last year, “we painstakingly rebuild our homes with a hope that peace will prevail,” said 48-year-old Shah Wali, a father of eight children including three girls. He has replaced his damaged ‘kulla’ with a single-storeyed concrete house after the government provided him Rs 1.30 lakh as compensation.

“We are optimistic and want our government to ensure that we do not suffer anymore and there will be lasting peace on the borders,” he said as he, along with his wife and two children, set out for the polling station.

A number of underground bunkers have been constructed by the government in the village, but some residents said “we are not sure if these can provide us protection”. These bunkers also lack amenities such as toilets.

At times, Pakistani shelling lasts for hours, and even days, LiaqatHussain said outside the polling booth, adding that the bunkers should have all amenities for these to become useful.

The presiding officer at the Jajwal polling station, Anurudh Kumar Bhat, said of 742 voters, 303, including 123 women, have cast their franchise till noon.

“The polling is going on peacefully,” he added as some CRPF and policemen stood guard.

Under a tree near the polling station, ex-servicemen JoginderLal (73) and Tulsi Ram (72) were enjoying a game of cards with two youths, Devender Kumar and Shubam. 

 “We were among the first to cast our votes and want this government to continue for the next term,” Lal said.

Similar views were expressed by middle-aged Renu Devi, who along with two sons and a daughter, was sitting outside their shop in the village.  “My husband runs the shop but he has gone to cast his vote,” she said.

A group of young voters, including Ajit Singh, said they are not satisfied with the current government led by the BJP. “We feel this government cannot bring peace on the borders and will only complicate problems,” Singh said, claiming that there is no alternative to the Congress in the country.

In nearby model polling station at Government Higher Secondary School Chakroi, people were standing in long queues and waiting for their turn to cast their votes. 

First-time voters PoonamMeena and Baby Bhagat say they are going to vote for a “strong government” at the Centre which can bring peace.  Incumbent MP Jugal Kishore of the BJP seeking re-election from the constituency, which has total 24 candidates. Besides Kishore, the other major contenders are Raman Bhalla of the Congress, ChoudharyLal Singh of the DograSwabhimanSangathan and National Panthers Party patron Bhim Singh.  PTI