Lok Sabha polls 2014: Low turnout in Afzal Guru’s hometown
North Kashmir, home to Maqbol Bhat and Afzal Guru, showed a contrast in Wednesday’s polling with Bhat’s Trehgam seeing people turning up in large numbers nad those in Guru’s Doabgah returning most voting machines untouched.
“We cannot touch the EVM because the election is conducted for the same Parliament that looked the other way when miscarriage of justice led to Afzal’s hanging,” Fayaz Ahmad, a youth in Doabgah, said. “We cannot resort to this (election) injustice.”
But there were long queues at Trehgam. Though Bhat’s family was absent, the entire village was lined up outside four polling stations. “We need a change,” said Abdul Rashid, a middle-aged man, displaying his voter identity card. “It a chance that we do not want to lose.”
But the dichotomy that the two villages, central to Kashmir’s new narrative, exhibited was part of a larger trend. Areas closer to the Line of Control voted heavily unlike those in the hinterland. Seven assembly segments – Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab, Handwara, Uri, Gurez and Langate – which are part of the Baramulla lok sabha constituency and have LoC as their rear demarcation – saw better-than-average to heavy polling. With 71.57%, Karnah topped the list, while Langate saw the lowest percentage among the seven at 47.84%.
The participation, however, reduced in the hinterland. It touched a phenomenal low of 1.02% in Sopore – the home town of Guru. Sonawari was the only one of the remaining hinterland constituencies (Baramulla LS seat has three districts and 15 assembly segments) that had a respectable turnout: 49.02%. “Overall percentage of the Lok Sabha constituency was 39.6%,” state’s chief electoral officer Umang Narula said. “If you see it district wise, it was 63.19% in Kupwara, 35.65% in Bandipore and 25.04% in Baramulla.”
Other factor that led to massive participation in border Kupwara district was the intense campaigning by two local small parties: People’s Conference and Awami Itehad Party. They were fundamentally responsible for massive mobilisation of people unlike the biggies, National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, which are in contest from this area. While NC has fielded incumbent Sharif ud Din Shariq, PDP has put up veteran Muzaffar Hussain Baig. “This season, I worked here for five months,” Sajjad Gani Lone of People’s Conference said. “People are unhappy with their representatives and they want a change.”
But Baramulla offered an unprecedented picture. Apprehensive that the restive old town may break into protest, authorities relocated all the 11 polling booths from the area to the ‘civil lines’. The two parts of the town on the two banks of the Jhelum are linked by four bridges. Three bridges had physical barriers using concertina wires and massive troop deployments blocking any kind of movement. The fourth was open but the link was used to engage stone pelters as a result of which not a single voter could move out and vote.
Narula termed it “your perception” when asked about the outright denial of the right to a vast population in the town. “For different elections we have different strategies in consultation with different people,” Narula said over the relocation and clubbing of such a large number of polling stations. He refused to elaborate.