Defying militants and separatists, panchayat members turned-out in huge numbers to vote for four Legislative Council seats, for the polls which were held after 32 years in Jammu and Kashmir, on Monday.
Around 90% turnout was recorded in the polls amid tight security in Jammu and Kashmir. Braving the chill, panchayat representatives thronged the polling booths to exercise their democratic rights.
Since 1980, this is the first time the polls are being held for the four seats reserved for Panchayat members in the Upper House. The Electoral College comprises of panchayat members who were elected in the historic polls held last year.
Nearly 33,540 panchs and sarpanchs were authorised to elect four MLCs for which 34 candidates were in fray –21 from Jammu and 16 from Kashmir. Ruling National Conference-Congress coalition and main opposition PDP were contesting all the four seats.
“It is a democratic process and there is no pressure (on us) as such. People are coming peacefully to cast their votes which is a proof of their faith in democracy”, said Abdul Rasheed, sarpanch Lalad village of militancy-prone Sopore in north Kashmir.
The polls were held in the backdrop of the killing of two panchayat representatives by militants in north Kashmir which had triggered mass resignation from Palhallan blocks. Nearly 27 companies’ of police and paramilitary forces were deployed to ensure smooth polling in the state.
“Tentatively 90% turnout was recorded today (Monday). Polling was peaceful and incident free”, said Umang Narula, chief electoral officer, Jammu and Kashmir.
Panchayat members defied the Hurriyat hawk, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who had asked them to boycott the polls in the interest of the ‘separatist’ movement. Supremo of United Jihad Council, an umbrella group of 13 militant outfits based in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Syed Salah-ud-din too had to eat a humble pie as his boycott call failed to make any dent.
“We hope the government fulfills the promise and empowers the panchayat members to strengthen the democracy further. We will analyse the polls after a few days and press for our demands”, said Shafiq Mir, chairman of All J&K Panchayat Conference, an apex body of elected panchs and sarpanchs.