Amid heavy security and looming militant threat, the first phase of polling to 30 urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir were conducted peacefully on Monday, even as the Kashmir region recorded an abysmally low voter turnout.
While the Jammu and Ladakh region recorded a turnout of 65%, only 8.2% votes were cast in the Kashmir region in the first of the four-phase polls held after 13 years. The overall turnout was 56.7% and, barring one incident, was conducted peacefully, said the state information department in a statement.
The regions two major political players – the National Conference (NC) and the Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – had announced they would boycott the polls. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress decided to contest.
The NC and the PDP were protesting against the Centre for not taking a firm stand against Article 35A of the Constitution challenged in the Supreme Court. Article 35A empowers the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define ‘permanent residents’ of the state.
In the Kashmir Valley, Bandipore recorded the lowest turnout at 3.3% and Kupwara the highest at 36.6%.
Militant groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen had threatened to throw acid at candidates and asked voters to boycott the elections. Streets in Kashmir wore a deserted look through the day.
Unlike the previous local body and panchayat polls, this time there were no queues outside polling stations in 58 wards of Kashmir. Polling was held under tight security from 7am to 4pm. Only one incident of violence was reported where a BJP candidate from Bandipore was injured when a stone hit him near a polling station.
In the election to 238 wards in the Jammu division, the turnout was 65%. In Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh division, 55.2% and 78.1% of the electorate cast their votes.
The overall polling percentage in Ladakh was 62.1.
In Anantnag, where polling was held for the Kokernag municipal committee, 7.3% voters exercised their franchise; in Budgam district, 17% voters turned up top vote, while a meagre 3.3% electorate cast their vote in Bandipore.
In Srinagar, where polling was held for three wards of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, the polling percentage was 6.2%. Baramulla saw 5.1% voters turn up to exercise their franchise.
The election authorities kept the identities of the candidates from the Valley under wraps for security concerns, prompting people to term the polls “secret elections”.
In the Jammu region, Rajouri district with 59 local bodies recorded a voter turnout of 81%, the highest in the state, followed by Kargil at 78.2%, Poonch at 73.1% and Jammu at 63.83%.
The second phase of polling covering 384 wards will be held on October 10, while the third phase of polls for 207 wards will be held on October 13.
In the last phase on October 16, polling will be held for 132 wards. The counting of votes will be held on October 20.