Low turnout in Srinagar, brisk polling in Jammu (Second Lead)

December 24th, 2008 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, Dec 24 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir was a study in contrasts Wednesday as voting got underway for the seventh and last round of the state elections with long queues outside polling booths in Jammu but low turnout in Srinagar constituencies where a boycott call by separatists held sway.While eight constituencies are going to the polls in Srinagar, 13 constituencies in the two districts of Jammu and Samba are holding elections.

In Srinagar, tension was palpable with the joint coordination committee of the separatist Hurriyat Conference calling for a total boycott of the polls and sporadic protests breaking out.

Streets in Srinagar were deserted and there was little movement of vehicles or pedestrians, especially in Srinagar’s old city areas.

In the eight constituencies of Idgah, Batmaloo, Amira Kadal, Habba Kadal, Zadibal, Sonawar, Hazratbal and Khanyar, all of which fall in Srinagar district, authorities stopped the movement of all people and vehicles except those of poll officials and security forces.

Voters trickled in slowly and most polling stations recorded low turnout. The old city constituencies of Khanyar, Idgah, Zadibal and Habba Kadal are believed to be separatist strongholds and there were few voters despite heavy security to instil confidence.

In Hazratbal and Sonawar constituencies, from where patron of the regional National Conference (NC) party and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah is contesting, only three percent of the electorate had cast their vote in the first two hours.

The figures were similar in other constituencies.

In Zadibal and Idgah constituencies, it was one percent, in Batmaloo two percent, in Khanyar 4.5 percent, in Habba Kadal 2.5 percent and in Amira Kadal 3.5 percent.

But there were some who felt differently.

Outside the Dhobighat polling station in Hazratbal, Showkat Ahmad, 18, was waiting in a small queue for his turn to vote.

“I am voting for the first time and my need is a government job. I have no other consideration and I hope my vote helps the candidate who gets me a job after winning the elections,” he said.

As polling progressed in fits and starts in the deserted streets, small anti-poll protests were carried out by groups of people in Chanapora, Natipora, Nawab Bazar and other localities of the city.

With 393 contestants, this final phase has the highest number of candidates since the staggered elections began Nov 17.

Since the separatist campaign began in 1989, no Srinagar constituency has recorded even 10 percent voting in any election.

In Jammu, the story was different. While polling got off to a sluggish start in the cold and foggy morning, voters in the 13 constituencies in Jammu and Samba districts came out as the day progressed.

Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was among the first to cast his vote in the Jammu East constituency.

He said after casting his vote: “I am confident that the Congress will form the next government in Jammu and Kashmir on its own.”

Security was tight after the arrest of three terrorists of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), who police said were planning a suicide attack in the winter capital. But that did not deter voters from coming out.

Brisk polling was witnessed across the 13 seats, particularly in rural areas.

In Jammu city, the atmosphere was festive with voters turning up in their festive best to take advantage of the holiday that the government had declared.

In the border areas of the region as well, people came out in large numbers to vote for peace at a time when tension has escalated between India and Pakistan.

Despite the fog and the chill, long queues began forming from early in the morning at many villages in the Ranbir Singhpora, Samba and Suchetgarh and Akhnoor sectors - covering a stretch of over 80 km of the 198 km international border with Pakistan.

Voter after voter in Suchetgarh, for instance, 40 km from Jammu, said they were voting for peace on the borders.

“We do want strong action against terrorists, but that should not be at our cost,” Ujjagar Singh, a resident of the border village of Satrian, told IANS.

The sixth round of voting Dec 17 saw 63 percent of the electorate turning out to vote despite freezing temperatures and threats from separatist groups. Votes will be counted Dec 28.

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