Voters defied the separatist boycott calls and inclement weather which was mighty evident as the first phase of polling saw half of the total electorate cast their vote in the first six hours in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.
Enthusiastic voters queued up at most polling stations in the Valley and the Jammu region. A separatist boycott call in the Valley barely evoked any response as men and women, especially the elderly came out in large numbers to vote.
A record number of 70 percent of the voters polled in 15 assembly constituencies in the first phase.
The morning was slow because of harsh weather conditions, especially in the Ladakh region where temperatures were much below the freezing point. Voting picked up in the Ladakh region as the day progressed.
In The Jammu region, Doda, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Bhaderwah, Banihal and Ramban also saw voters turn up at booths.
The voters said they were voting for change in the Valley as they want development and employment that the youth is seriously grappling with, while those in the Jammu region said they were voting for change and development.
Mushtaq, who voted from Sonawari said: I am voting because I want a change. The previous government failed to do anything substantial. The younger people from Ganderbal have come out to vote because there are no employment opportunities. Youngsters are sitting at home doing nothing. Development here is a namesake.
Voting from Ganderbal, Javed Ahmed: I am going to vote today because the levels of unemployment here are staggering. I have been unemployed for six years even after being educated. This government promised jobs to us and there haven’t been any. Only a change in this government can improve the situation here.
The election commission deputed 225 micro observers, besides webcasting 159 polling stations. “Polling started peacefully at all the 1,787 polling stations spread over seven districts,” an official said. Over a million voters will decide the political fate of 123 candidates in the fray.
Enthusiasm was palpable in Lar town of Ganderbal constituency as both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party candidates belong to this town. A poll official had to ask their supporters to remain calm at a polling booth.
Long queues were also seen in Sumbal town of Sonawari constituency and in Bandipora town of Bandipora constituency.
A Ganderbal polling booth, with 878 registered voters, was set up at a high school because of a poll bycott call. Only 65 votes were cast in the Lok Sabha election, but more than 250 votes were cast in the first hours Tuesday.
In Nubra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar constituencies of Ladakh region, the morning temperature was several notches below the freezing point. The morning cold also affected the early voter turnout in Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Ramban and Banihal constituencies in the Jammu region.
Still, young voters queued up at the Hariganimen polling booth of the Kangan constituency in Ganderbal district. Dressed in traditional Kashmiri attire, most of them probably were first-time voters. The total number of registered voters at this booth is 642 – 335 males and 307 females – of whom around 50 votes were cast by 8.30 a.m.
Polling started at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.
Vote count will take place Dec 23 after the last phase of the five-phase elections end Dec 20.