Leaving behind the nightmare of the 2013 communal riot, Kishtwar residents reaffirmed their faith in democracy as they turned out in large numbers to cast their ballot on Thursday.
The highly sensitive mountainous district of Jammu division is part of the Udhampur parliamentary constituency, from where Congress' Ghulam Nabi Azad is seeking, for the first time, the people's mandate. The constituency witnessed 61.15 per cent turnout till 3pm; final voting percent is expected to be much higher.
As many as 14.61 lakh voters will decide the fate of Azad, who is in a direct contest with the BJP's Jintender Singh and 11 other candidates. The population had been bitterly polarised since the August 2013 riot, which claimed three lives. Scores of structures were set ablaze by arsonists and losses ran in crores. The communal tension had also claimed the scalp of the local MLA and then junior home minister, Sajad Kitchloo, who was forced to resign. However, the Omar government reinstated him after a judicial commission probing the riots gave him a clean chit early this year.
On Thursday though, people from both the communities thronged the polling booths to exercise their franchise. Many braved inclement weather to reach polling stations.
"It is in the history of Kishtwar that such a large number of people came out to vote," said GK Tak, a voter in 51-Kishtwar constituency. "Though voting pattern was divided, large participation by both communities was encouraging. People need to be congratulated for ensuring peaceful atmosphere."
Another voter in Kishtwar, Mohommad Yousuf Bhat, hoped that the new MP would pay attention to the area's development. "Whosoever is elected, should now focus on development of the area. We have suffered a lot. The time has now come for divisive politics to be laid to rest," said Bhat.
Syed Asghar Ali, senior People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader, said: "Such heavy polling in Parliamentary polls has never been seen before in Kishtwar. The only reason I see is the polarization of the electorate, which has just compelled the section of people to come out and vote heavily."