M A I N   N E W S

Kashmiris vote like never before
Record turnout in civic poll
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Baramula/Kupwara, January 29
People of Kashmir braved terrorist threats and boycott calls to bring home democracy in style today. Determined to make a success of the local bodies elections, being held after a gap of 27 years, the voters surfaced like never before. And they did not return until they had created history in the elections held to two municipal councils and eight municipal committees of Baramula and Kupwara.

As if succumbing to voters’ will, terrorists also did not strike today. The elections were incident-free, although there were some attacks and killings over the past week.

While Kupwara district recorded a phenomenal 86 per cent voter turnout, Baramula, known for a low turnout, improved its participation by polling 48 per cent votes.

The overall poll percentage in the two districts was 49.

The most significant aspect of today’s elections was an overwhelming participation of people from vulnerable pockets like Sopore, a Jamaat-e-Islami stronghold known as hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s home.

This area, which has never recorded over 15 per cent turnout, today witnessed 26 per cent polling.

The border town of Uri (Baramula) polled a heavy 77.87 per cent. Hajan, the fort of slain counterinsurgent leader Kukka Parrey’s, polled briskly to bring Parrey’s Awami League back to power in 12 out of 13 wards for the municipal committee.

For the first time in the annals of Kashmir elections, huge turnouts have been recorded in terrorist-infested areas, otherwise considered “zero polling” zones.

Kupwara town led the trend by registering 88.69 per cent voting; Handwara recorded 83.52 per cent.

In Baramula district, where elections were held to two municipal councils of Baramula and Sopore and six municipal committees (Bandipore, Hajan, Pattan, Uri, Kunzar and Sumbal), the voters’ response was overwhelming.

Infamous for a disinterested electorate, Baramula town recorded 38 per cent voting.

Deputy Commissioner Dheeraj Gupta told The Tribune: “The response has been positive and it shows people are concerned about their common civic problems like sanitation, drainage and power shortage. Surprisingly, people have endured threats in Sopore and old Baramula town to bring democracy back to power. All 36 Wards reserved for women have also been keenly contested.”

There have been some attacks on candidates since the announcement of elections in Baramula — one resulted in the killing of Congress candidate Nooruddin Shervani from the town; another caused serious injuries to an Independent candidate from Sopore.

Women surface as leaders

Most of the wards reserved for women in Baramula and Kupwara witnessed brisk polling and keen contests. One of the most vulnerable ward — Khwajabagh in Baramulla municipal council — saw a close battle between two women candidates, one of them a Kashmiri Sikh. Raminder Kaur, the PDP candidate from the ward, wrested the seat from her Congress rival Gul Rubi.

Speaking to The Tribune today, Raminder Kaur said she had promised her voters a development centric agenda. “We have many disabled children and old people. There is little provision for their relief but I will start projects to help them. Also we need to employ our youth who are sitting idle despite good degrees.”

In Handwara, Fulsuma Begum wrote history by wining the lone sat for National Conference. In Kunzer municipal committee, three out of five wards were wrested by women. Naseema Peer of PDP, Naseema Begum of the Congress and Misra Begum, an independent, were elected unopposed from Kunzer.

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