'Larger issues' draw voters to Hazratbal polling booths

Like elsewhere, voting at a polling station in Gasoo area of Hazratbal on the outskirts of Srinagar, started at 7am, and within next half an hour, more than a dozen voters had exercised their right to franchise.

This number may seem negligible, but according to local residents, and polling agents of political parties, merely a dozen votes were cast for the full day in the last parliamentary election in the area, as against more than a dozen votes were cast in the first 30 minutes of polling here today.

“There were many polling stations in the area which saw a zero turnout in the recently-held civic body elections as well as the last parliamentary polls, but today the turnout figure here crossed a three-digit mark in several areas,” said a local voter, who wished not to be named.

At a polling station set up at Wangund area of Tailbal, which had seen a zero turnout in the civil elections, 160 votes out of 1065 had been cast before 2pm Thursday, an election official said.

“I was acting as a booth-level officer in this pooling booth during the local body elections. No vote was cast here that time. Today the clock is yet to hit 2pm and 161 votes have already been cast,” said the BLO.

At another polling station at Habak Shanpore—near Foreshore Road—176 votes were cast before 1pm, out of 1011 votes.

“Only 23 votes were cast in this polling station in the local body elections,” said a polling agent of a political party.

A voter from the area, who identified himself as Manzoor Ahmad, said: “There are issues like (protection of) Articles 370 and 35 A for which people are voting today, because conspiracies are being hatched to abolish them. That is the main reason why people are voting in relatively larger numbers today than the civic body elections”.

Like Gasoo, there were many areas like Batapora which saw an increase in voter turnout as compared to the previous elections.

“Last time, there were clashes in Batapora and people preferred to stay away from voting. This time, the area is relatively calm and the number of votes cast in the first few hours of voting is more than the one seen in the previous elections,” said an on-duty polling officer at Batapora.

Many voters said they cast their votes to “help safeguard” state’s special status and ensure that Kashmiris are not harassed in other states as has been seen recently.

“We want our voices to be heard in the parliament. We have to fight against the assault on our special status by electing people who are serious about safeguarding it,” said a group of voters at Habak.

Meanwhile, across more than a dozen polling stations in the Hazratbal area, the electoral fight seemed to be between the National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah and PDP’s Agha Mohsin.

In several polling stations in Habak, Hazratbal, Tailbal, Gasoo and Mulphaq areas, polling agents representing their respective parties—other than NC and PDP—admit that the fight is largely between Abdullah and Mohsin.

“Leaving voters in the Dal Lake interiors aside, which have shifted loyalties to other parties due to the recent rebellion within the PDP, the fight is between NC and PDP candidates, with the NC candidate having an upper hand,” said a polling agent at Habak.

“We are keeping a count of votes. So far I can tell you that votes cast are shared by the NC and PDP,” he said.

On ground, majority of voters in polling stations around Habak area—where ex-MLA from PDP Asiya Naqqash and ex-MLA from NC Syed Akhoon cast their votes—said they are choosing between NC and PDP.

“We don’t want any outsiders here, it should be our own people who are accessible to us and that’s the reason people here are voting for PDP and NC,” said Abdus Salam, an octogenarian at Batapora polling station.

“People are also voting to keep BJP at bay,” he said.

In Hazratbal areas, NC is banking on its staunch supporters who have been religiously voting for the party from past decades.

After casting her vote at Habak, Asiya Naqash, a former minister in the PDP government, said: “It has always been between us (NC and PDP) in Hazratbal”.

“The voting in our area is picking up because people are lately missing the elected government in J&K. Moreover, people understand that major issues like Articles 35 A and 370 can be addressed through voting,” Naqash said.

Meanwhile, soon after casting his vote at government middle school, Mirakshah colony Habak, former NC MLA, Syed Akhoon, claimed that “it will be a clean sweep for NC in Srinagar seat”.

“Kashmiris need a leader whose voice is heard in Delhi and in Dr Farooq Abdullah we have such a leader. Apart from Hazratbal constituency, NC has a huge support base in Ganderbal and Budgam. We are confident of winning,” Akhoon said.