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Kashmir local polls see people in participative mood

Monday April 18, 2011 06:46:22 PM, F. Ahmed, IANS

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High voter turnout marks peaceful Kashmir panchayat polls

Heavy voter turnout marked an incident-free first phase of panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir Wednesday. In the Kashmir Valley, preliminary trends indicated 77 percent voter turnout in Kangan, 86 percent in Kupwara, 75 percent in Badgam and 70 percent in Qaimoh blocks where   »

Srinagar: Despite a boycott call by hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, Jammu and Kashmir's elections to local bodies, two rounds of which have been held so far, have witnessed very impressive voter turnout, reflecting the people's desire to participate in the state's democratic process and resolve their "basic problems".

The second phase of the panchayat polls Sunday recorded 81.62 percent voting, while in the first phase held April 13 it was over 77 percent. This, despite the boycott call by Geelani and the killing of a woman candidate, has provided the much-needed positive thrust to the peace process in the state which is driven, in no small measure, by the aspirations of the state's vast rural population and their yearning for peace and stability in their lives.

Sunday's voting in Lar block (82.6 percent), Wavoora (85), Uri (86.95), Nagam (72) and Pahloo (81.48) was peaceful and brisk in spite of the rainy weather. Four blocks - Kangan, Badgam, Kupwara and Qaimoh - went to the polls in the first phase.

The 16-phase elections, first after a gap of 10 years, are being held on a non-party basis.

Significantly, except for Geelani, all the other separatist leaders had maintained discreet silence over the local elections in contrast to the assembly elections of 2008, when all separatist outfits appealed for a poll boycott.

Although Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the enthusiastic participation of the people in the panchayat elections indicated their determination for self-empowerment, he stressed that it should be interpreted only in that context. Abdullah, obviously, was being cautious, preferring not to go overboard by seeing any larger implication in the voter turnout that could have a direct bearing on the resolution to the Kashmir problem.

Nazir Ahmad Wani, 32, a voter in the Kangan block of Ganderbal district in north Kashmir said: "We have basic problems of roads, schools, electricity, education, etc., in our villages and for that, we need to have local representatives with a democratic mandate to present our issues in the official forums.

"Our basic problems are connected with our day-to-day living and these cannot wait for years before the political uncertainty ends here. That is why we have participated in these elections."

The authorities here say they have taken adequate security precautions to ensure voters are not forced to stay away from the elections.

"Area domination, specific security measures based on threat perception, etc., have been taken to ensure those willing to vote are not forced to stay away through threats, intimidation, etc., " said a senior police officer.

Separatist guerrillas, who had so far not interfered with the campaign process of these elections in the Valley, struck Friday killing a woman candidate in central Kashmir's Badgam district.

While the killing was seen as an open attempt by the guerrillas to send across a message to the people not to participate in the election process, intelligence officials maintained the actual motive behind the murder was yet to be fully established.

"This could be a criminal act unconnected with the Panchayat polls. But we cannot say anything categorically at the moment. The matter is being probed", said an intelligence officer here requesting anonymity.

Whatever the motive, it is unlikely that the incident would affect the voting patterns in the remaining 14 phases of the polls.

"The people in the villages have eagerly participated in the campaign with supporters of candidates going door-to-door asking for votes. No fear will force them to give up," said an election official.

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at




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