Disregarding hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Shah’s boycott call, Kashmiris, including women in large numbers, turned up at the polling booths on Wednesday to vote in the first phase of panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The polls are being held for the first time in more than a decade in the state.
However, chief minister Omar Abdullah said it is essentially the first panchayat election being held in 33 years as the last one that took place in 2000 was only on paper. He tweeted, “In reality this is first panchayat poll after 33 years. The one held in 2000 was only on paper (as) more than half of the seats remained empty.”
Official statistics said people voted on Wednesday to elect 288 sarpanchs and 2,118 panchs in the blocks of Kupwara, Kangan, Budgam and Quimoh of the Kashmir Valley and Udhampur, Samba and Bishnah in Jammu region. The highest turnout (86.2 per cent) was reported in Kupwara and the lowest (72 per cent) in Budgam.
While officially the panchayat polls are held on non-party basis, all major political parties, including the ruling National Conference-Congress coalition partners and Opposition PDP and BJP, have fielded their workers as Independent candidates. Also, ministers, legislators and senior leaders of these political parties are campaigning in favour of their respective unofficial nominees. The last phase of the 16th phased election is scheduled to be held on June 18 covering a total 4,128 panchayats in the state.
Security for the polls was high. DGP Kuldeep Khoda had earlier held a high-level meeting with senior police and paramilitary officers to ensure proper security to poll staff, candidates and voters. Senior CRPF officials have ruled out possibility of further reducing the number of their personnel deployed in the state in view of the elections. The CM, terming these polls “momentous”, said the exercise would lead to empowering the general public and involving them in the process of development and political stability in the state. He added, “We are committed to transferring power from the Secretariat down to grassroots and the panchayat elections is a step forward towards fulfilling that commitment of my government.” Asian Age