After years of threats, people step out to vote in Baramulla

Baramulla (Kashmir), May 20 (PTI) “I didn’t get a chance to vote in the past and voted today to choose a government which will work for the country’s development,” said Ghulam Qadir Darzi, 52, as he emerged out of a polling station in Sopore here on Monday after voting for the first time.

The new government should create enough employment opportunities for the unemployed youth, said Darzi, a retired government employee.

Standing in a long queue outside this polling station in Delina village in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency’s Sopore, a region once known for its association with separatist activities, are many such voters who stayed away from elections in the past amid boycott calls and threats issued by separatists.

For Javed Ahmad Guroo, Mohd Sultan Bhat and Abdul Rashid, all in their mid-40s, too, this ended on Monday.

“We are voting for the first time in the past three decades. We decided to come and vote for our better future,” said Guroo, admitting that the separatist-led boycott calls and threats of violence kept them away from polling booths in the past.

Also among the voters is Mir Masoom Sultan, 18, a first-time voter, who underlines the importance of individual voices in shaping political outcomes.

Sultan said he decided to vote to “get one of our men out of jail”.

“He was talking about us in the assembly and we hope that our vote will get him out of prison and he can start talking about us again,” the teenager said, referring to Awami Ittehad Party (AIP) chairman Sheikh Abdul Rashid, alias Engineer Rashid, who is lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail since he was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in a terror-funding case in 2019.

A total of 22 candidates are in the fray from the Baramulla constituency including National Conference’s Omar Abdullah and separatist-turned-politician and People’s Conference chief Sajjad Lone.

The entry of AIP’s Rashid has made the contest interesting. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and former Rajya Sabha member Fayaz Mir is also in the fray.

Sopore, 55 km from Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, along with adjoining areas has mostly responded to the separatist-sponsored poll boycott calls in the past.

The Lok Sabha elections are the first major electoral exercise after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 that is being held without any interference by anti-national and anti-social elements.

Geelani, 91, avowedly a pro-Pakistan supporter who spearheaded the separatist movement in Jammu and Kashmir for over three decades, died in September 2021.

Voters showed up in significant numbers in Sopore on Monday.

According to officials, a voter turnout of 8 per cent was recorded in the first two hours of polling and it was expected to pick up during the day.

There are over 17.32 lakh eligible voters in Baramulla, according to the Election Commission.

The constituency is spread over 18 assembly segments in three districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora and also includes two segments of Budgam that were included on the recommendations of the delimitation commission two years ago.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Baramulla had recorded a voter turnout of 34.17 per cent with Kupwara district registering a turnout of 51.7 per cent, followed by Bandipora (31.8 per cent) and Baramulla (24 per cent).