With 59% voter turnout, Baramulla breaks previous poll record

The highest turnout previously achieved in the constituency in J&K was 46.65% in 1996; large numbers of women, relatives of active militants and even the cadre of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami came out to cast their votes this time; Omar Abdullah, Sajad Lone and Engineer Rashid are in the fray

Updated - May 21, 2024 02:20 pm IST

Published - May 20, 2024 09:59 pm IST - BARAMULLA

 Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fifth phase of voting in General election, in Pattan Baramulla district, North kashmir on May 20, 2024.

Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fifth phase of voting in General election, in Pattan Baramulla district, North kashmir on May 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

A paradigm shift in the voting pattern in Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency in the Kashmir Valley pushed the polling percentage to 59% by 5 p.m. on May 20, breaking the previous record of  46.65% in 1996. An unprecedented number of women, relatives of active militants and even cadres of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) turned up to cast their votes.

“Zero violence was reported during voting in Baramulla. Poll percentage increased from 4% in 2019 to 44% in Sopore. The Baramulla constituency recorded all-time highest voter turnout of 59%,” said P.K Pole, chief electoral officer, J&K.

The scene in Sopore in Baramulla district was in contrast to the past when a trickle of voters would walk gingerly towards deserted polling booths. Sopore registered the highest turnout in three decades. It is a bastion of the JeI and the home town of senior separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

 Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fifth phase of voting in General election, in Pattan Baramulla district, North kashmir on May 20, 2024.

Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fifth phase of voting in General election, in Pattan Baramulla district, North kashmir on May 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Mohammad Ashraf Ganie, president of the Sopore Market, was among the senior citizens who were casting their votes for the first time in their lives. “Turnout in Sopore would be one or two percent in the past. Because of the situation, I never voted all these years. People voted this time to see development and prosperity in Sopore, which is facing both an acute water and power crisis. Youth also came forward,” Mr. Ganie said.

Several voters in the town talked about their concerns, including the harsh process of police verification in jobs, sealing of houses and denial of passports for being relatives of militants and separatists. “We hope the elected representatives will put an end to this harsh process,” a voter said, on the condition of anonymity.

Dawood Mir, brother of active militant Bilal Mir, said he had come to vote for “Sopore’s development”. Two other brothers of his are in jail because of the sibling who is a militant, said Mr. Dawood Mir. “One brother is in the Kupwara jail and another in a Jammu jail. We will try our best to bring our militant brother home. But I request the government to release my brothers,” he said. Family members of other active militants such as Omar, Abid Qayoom and Umar Lone from Baramulla district also came to exercise their franchise.

Scores of banned JeI members were seen voting in the Baramulla-Handwara-Sopore belt. “I have been voting since 1969. It was because of rigging in 1987 that our faith in the electoral process got eroded. If rigging is not allowed and the ban on the JeI is lifted, we will contest. Even otherwise we will come out and vote. I made the decision (to vote) after gauging the situation,” Ghulam Qadir Lone, a JeI member, said.

 Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fifth phase of voting in General election, in Pattan Baramulla district, North kashmir on May 20, 2024.

Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fifth phase of voting in General election, in Pattan Baramulla district, North kashmir on May 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Large numbers of women queued up outside polling booths, often outnumbering men. In the first six hours (till 1 p.m.), Sopore recorded 55,959 votes by women and 55,385 by men; Baramulla town recorded 63,375 votes from women and 63,303 votes from men; Pattan registered 51,525 votes from women and 50,730 votes from men; and Trehgam had 39,547 votes from women and 38,802 votes from men.

“We are voting to end helplessness. We are voting to secure the future of our youth. We yearn for a lasting peace,” said a woman voter in Trehgam.

As many as 22 candidates are contesting the Baramulla seat, which has a total of 17.47 lakh voters. The fight is mainly between Omar Abdullah (National Conference), Sajad Lone (J&K People’s Conference) and Engineer Rashid (Awami Ittehad Party). Mr. Rashid, who was jailed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, has been in the Tihar prison since August 2019.

“If voted to power, I will end police verification and FIR culture. It’s affecting our youth badly,” Mr. Lone said, after casting his vote in Handwara.

Mr. Rashid’s two sons, who had campaigned for him, his brother and his parents voted at the Government Higher Secondary School Sanzipora Mawer, Handwara. “I want my son to win and return home,” Mr. Rashid’s mother said.

Mr. Abdullah said, “I am contesting against candidates from Delhi. Earlier, they had tailored clothes for the Parliament. Now they are talking about my defeat. Nonetheless, it’s good to see a healthy number of voters at the polling booths. Also, if the JeI has expressed willingness to join the electoral process, the ban should be lifted as early as possible,” Mr. Abdullah said.

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