Voting picks up in Anantnag by-election

Anantnag, June 22:¬†The morning’s shy trickle of voters on Wednesday gradually changed into small queues in rural areas of Anantnag assembly constituency in Jammu and Kashmir where Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is contesting but the turnout in urban areas was very low.

In both the urban and rural segments, women voters outnumbered men, officials said. An Election Commission official put the voter turnout at noon at 20 per cent — compared to a poor four per cent in the first one hour.

At the Khanabal High School in Anantnag town, where two polling centres have been set up, women in ‘burqa’ formed the bulk of voters. The story was the same at Rambirpora, Krangsoo, Kehribal and several other places.

It seemed women were determined to defy the separatists’ calls to boycott the elections.

After she was sworn in as Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman chief minister on April 4, it became mandatory for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader to become a member of either house of the bicameral legislature.

Anantnag was represented in the 87-member assembly by her father and late Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed till he passed away on January 7.

Police and paramilitary forces were deployed in strength to prevent militants from interfering with the election process.

The army was deployed in what is known as “area domination” duty in the periphery of the constituency to ensure an incident free poll.

There was a complete shutdown in Anantnag town following the boycott call of the separatists.

Wednesday was declared a public holiday in Anantnag constituency.

Traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, which passes through this town, moved normally. Movement of vehicles carrying tourists to the Pahalgam health resort was also normal.

Mehbooba Mufti visited a number of polling stations on Wednesday. But she refused to speak to the media.

At Rambirpora polling station, where journalists sought her comments, she said: “I will speak to you when I have something to say.”

There are seven other candidates in the fray including Hilal Ahmad Shah of the Congress and Iftikhar Hussain Misgar of the National Conference.

Speaking to mediapersons¬†after voting, few people had doubts about Mehbooba Mufti’s victory.

“We know she will not solve international issues but will definitely address unemployment, education, healthcare and give us better roads, and she will also empower women,” said Shafeeqa Begum, 45.

Shafeeqa, however, believes — like many others — that a narrow victory margin could dent Mehbooba Mufti’s image as a popular Chief Minister whose PDP has its base in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam.

The Muftis belong to the neighbouring Bijbehara town.

Voting started at 7 a.m. will end at 6 p.m. The votes will be counted on June 25 and the results will be announced the same day.

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