The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pariah booths of Anantnag

Anantnag, Oct. 1: Low turnout and violence marred elections in militancy-infested Anantnag and Pulwama, where 16 Assembly segments went to polls in the third round today.

Polling stations were deserted at several areas in these two districts in the Kashmir Valley. In Anantnag, the official turnout was 25 per cent — not a mean figure in this hotbed of extrimists — but there was little evidence on the ground to back up the claim. In Pulwama, it was marginally better — 28 per cent.

“I have been idling for a long time, but there are no voters,” said Irfan Ali, presiding officer of the polling station in the Hanfiya Institute at Lal Chowk, Anantnag, as he whiled away the hours.

“I am tired of carrying this bulletproof jacket. I want to hand over this baggage to state officials as soon as possible and rejoin my family. This is a boring day.” Only 24 out of 838 voters had turned up, Ali said as he prepared to seal the electronic voting machine.

His colleague Mohammad Shamim Ansari looked eager to return to Srinagar for his journey back home to Kanpur. “We will deposit the EVM and then prepare to leave the Valley. The polling percentage was very low in this town.”

Bejibehara in Anantnag was deserted in the afternoon. “I am still waiting for the voters,” said Raees Ahmad, a presiding officer. “Not a single voter came to this polling booth. The situation is nearly the same in eight nearby polling booths.”

However, the health resort of Pahalgam, from where People’s Democratic Party candidate Mehbooba Mufti is contesting, saw brisk voting. Mehbooba has been camping here for the past few days.

In Anantnag town, only few voted. In polling station 47-C, Mohammad Nayeem, an officer from Uttar Pradesh, said “only 11 persons had cast their vote”.

Dozens, however, turned up at Kadalbal Pampore, in Pulwama, to press their choice. “I am voting willingly. We are voting for our neighbour. He is the candidate of the National Conference,” said Abdul Rashid.

At Kakpora, on the Pampore-Pulwama Road, villagers had lined up to cast their ballot. But in the adjoining villages of Bejibagh and Pinglina, people said they were boycotting the elections. “We will not vote,” said a youth as the others shouted: “We want freedom.” The crowd dispersed soon after.

“Two votes in one polling booth and four in the other,” said a poll official.

Pulwama town was shut and only few youths could be seen on the main chowk. In polling booth No. 39-C, some women and a few dozen men had turned up.

On the road to Shopian, Pulwama, few villagers were seen at polling booths. The atmosphere was tense as moments earlier militants had attacked the vehicle of the subdivisional police officer with a grenade. The officer escaped unhurt but the tension was palpable.

Many youths complained that security forces were forcing people to vote. As their voices of anger rose, the crowd swelled. Soon, pro-freedom slogans split the crisp air.

“We will not vote. Elections in the past have failed to solve this problem. We want a permanent solution,” the crowd shouted.

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