Fortified Budgam sticks to poll boycott

The repolling in Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency on Thursday saw an abysmally low voter turnout of mere two percent at the end of the day, exactly on the pattern of April 9 voting in the constituency, even as the poll-bound areas were dotted with thick presence of forces to “ensure
Fortified Budgam sticks to poll boycott
Security outside the polling station in Wathoora. Photo: Mubashir Khan/GK

The repolling in Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency on Thursday saw an abysmally low voter turnout of mere two percent at the end of the day, exactly on the pattern of April 9 voting in the constituency, even as the poll-bound areas were dotted with thick presence of forces to "ensure incident-free elections." Amid low polling, official sources said that in at least 26 polling stations, not a single vote was cast—an indication of near-total boycott of the exercise.

                                                     Illustration 

ON THE SPOT

Deep in this central Kashmir district, in Kralpora area, a government school looked like part of a garrisoned zone. Wearing riot-gear, the gun-yielding men of Central Reserve Police Force and J&K Police control the main road and link routes leading to the school. Inside the one-storey building, with broken windowpanes and doors, four men sit in chairs, hoping the day will pass off peacefully. This school is one of the 38 polling stations in Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency where fresh elections were held on Thursday.

"It is much more peaceful today. This time, I could get time to have glass of water," a CRPF man guarding the school entrance told Greater Kashmir. "The trick of heavy deployment of forces worked."

His remarks were in comparison to the situation at the booth and across the constituency on April 9 when it went for bypolls. Eight civilians were killed and over 150 injured in severe clashes between the protestors and government forces on the election day when the constituency witnessed the lowest ever turnout of 7 percent.

Today, the turnout, as per official figures, was abysmally low with just 709 people of 35169 voters casting their vote, equaling to 2.02 percent. In 26 polling stations not a single vote was cast.

Of the total polling booths at the school housed two stations with total voter strength of 1845 persons registered there. But not a single voter had turned up till early afternoon, an indication about the boycott of election this time.

At Wathoora, a group of young boys, hiding their faces in masks, said there was no deployment till 11 pm yesterday. "But when we woke up this morning the forces were in control of every street and road," said a tall and frail looking youth in his early 20s.

This time, in comparison to deployment of 10 to 12 men-in-uniform, more than two companies of the forces including CRPF and police were deployed at each of the 38 polling stations, equaling to over 200 personnel, as part of the plan for ensuring violence-free voting in the areas. In some areas authorities had also called in army.

"By deploying more forces they (Government) want to give an impression of peace but they know it well that the anger in Kashmir is simmering; it is like a volcano which will erupt again and engulf this Government," said a youth, who identified himself as Mushtaq Ahmad Rather, at main Wathoora where repolling was held at one polling station.

To a question, Rather, a post graduation student in political science responded: "Today we are facing an onslaught by BJP and RSS on our identity. By participating in this electoral process we will only end up strengthening the mainstream parties."

The student was interrupted by his friend. "Eleven of our brothers were martyred in less than a month in this area. How can we forget their sacrifices and participate in this exercise (polling)," said the young man, refusing to reveal his identity, referring to the recent civilian and militant killings in the constituency.

Inside the polling booth, set up in Wathoora Higher Secondary, at around 1 pm, a polling officer remarked: "no vote polled". The booth had a total of 869 voters registered.

The situation was no different at other polling booths with gun-yielding men dominating the areas housing the polling stations, as people stayed away to boycott the electoral exercise, a repeat of April 9 following the separatists' call asking people to boycott the "sham" polls.

"This (boycott to elections) is our response to the oppression people have been subjected to and is a clear message to the State Government and Government of India to resolve the political issue of Kashmir," said Muneeb Ahmad, outside Repora polling station which falls in Charar-i-Sharief constituency.  

In Nasrullahpora where violent clashes had marred the voting on April 9, forcing re-election, the two polling booths had been shifted to nearby Takipora. Authorities had set up a makeshift tin-shed as polling booth, circled by residential houses, inside a crammed street. While one person out of total 1088 registered voters had cast vote at one booth, the number of people who had exercise their franchise was two of 1189 voters.

A woman, visibly angry, was cursing the election authorities for shifting the polling station to their mohalla. "May they face God's wrath. Do write that we didn't vote last time. Now they have shifted the booth to our mohalla to try and defame us," said the elderly woman who identified herself as Shameema.

Amid almost near total boycott, some bogus voters were caught at Kanihama polling station in Beerwah constituency. "A few people turned up with voter slips but after failing to prove their identity we didn't allow them to cast vote," said a Booth Level Officer.

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