Sixth phase of polling begins in Jammu region

December 17th, 2008 - 10:13 am ICT by IANS  

Sonia GandhiJammu, Dec 17 (IANS) Amidst thick hovering clouds and overnight snow, voting for the sixth of the seven-phase assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir began Wednesday in three mountainous districts of the Jammu region. Polling was also underway in two districts of the Kashmir valley. Deployment of poll officials in remote and far flung mountainous polling stations in Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts became a big challenge amidst snowfall and rains since Tuesday afternoon.

Doda Deputy Commissioner Syed Sharif-ud-din said: “We have deployed security personnel but the weather is throwing a bigger challenge than security. We have all our contingency plans in place for any weather related eventuality.”

With over 450,000 voters and 108 candidates for the six seats, there was massive enthusiasm for the elections. However many felt the weather may play spoil sport.

Kishtwar resident Riaz Ahmad Siddiqui said: “The weather can affect the voters’ turnout in these mountainous areas with difficult terrain.”

Among the most prominent contestant is former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, fighting from Bhadedrwah constituency as the Congress candidate.

The battle is essentially between the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Congress. There are 559 polling stations in this area that is bordering the Kashmir valley.

Right from Congress president Sonia Gandhi to candidates contesting in the most hilly belt of Jammu region, all have focused on the lack of development and promised these areas would get better roads, schools, bridges, water and electricity.

The Congress, in particular, had something to show. Azad had started a series of development works in all the areas, improving roads and increasing access to educational institutions.

“This is what we have delivered but for doing most of the things to improve your lives we need a clear mandate from you,” Sonia Gandhi had asked the voters here in a pre-poll rally.

NC leaders Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah, and PDP leaders Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti too have been focusing on the lack of development in the areas. All of them blamed each other and vowed to transform the landscape of these mountainous districts.

In this backdrop, Azad is safely placed in his constituency, though NC’s Mohammad Aslam Goni is expected to give a semblance of contest. PDP’s Mujib Ali does not have much of a following, while BJP’s Daya Krishan Kotwal is expected to garner some Hindu votes.

Azad had won the constituency with a huge margin of 58,000 in a by-election in April 2006. His nearest BJP rival had lost his deposit. There are 19 candidates in the fray in this constituency.

The contest is between the Congress, NC and PDP in the other constituencies - Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Ramban and Banihal. Two of these seats - Bhaderwah and Inderwal - had gone to Congress in 2002 elections. Kishtwar and Ramban were won by the NC, while Doda and Banihal seats went to independents.

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