Voters defy separatists, Naxalites with record polling at J&K, Jharkhand elections

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Jharkhand, two insurgent-infested states, witnessed high turnouts in the first phase of assembly elections on Tuesday, as voters ignored calls for a poll boycott. As the first day's polling ended, J&K saw a voter turnout of nearly 72 per cent while Jharkhand saw 62 per cent of the electorate cast their votes.

People in Jammu and Kashmir rejected poll boycott calls by separatists and declared support to democracy with a record 72 per cent turnout during the first phase of assembly polls. Voters lined up in thousands outside polling booths, posting the highest turnout in the 15 seats that went to polls on Tuesday.

Polling of 71.3 per cent was much higher compared to the 65 per cent turnout during the 2008 assembly elections. During the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, these assembly constituencies had registered 52.6 per cent voting.

Some seats in the Valley recorded more votes than Jammu and Ladakh. Three Bandipora constituencies in north Kashmir recorded up to 75 per cent turnout.

Describing the elections as "flawless", deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi said there wasn't a single "vitiating" incident save minor clashes. He attributed the turnout to "the combined efforts of everyone".

Hailing successful polling in 15 seats of Jammu & Kashmir, Zutshi said there were no untoward incidents. "There were a few incidents of bursting of fire crackers in Bandipora, nothing else," he said.

Independent sources, however, said an explosive went off minutes after voting began at a polling station in Bandipora. Another blast was reported at Naidkhi in Sonawari, north Kashmir, with eyewitnesses saying it was a petrol bomb thrown by miscreants to scare away voters. But that did not deter them, they said.

The sense in some quarters that the Omar government would get washed away in the elections because of mishandling of September floods gained traction as the turnout rose through the day.

Kashmiri separatists said the turnout was a result of large security presence but political analysts believed they were soft on election boycott given BJP's presence, particularly in the Valley. Rejecting this, hardliner Syed Ali Geelani said, "The government conducted these elections on the strength of security forces," adding that the police had said they would crush anybody trying to disrupt polling and they proved it.

In Jharkhand, polling was peaceful in all 13 Naxal-infested constituencies despite a boycott call by Maoists.

''Barring sporadic incidents of damage to EVMs, polling in all 13 constituencies was peaceful with an impressive turnout of around 62 per cent,'' said chief electoral officer PK Jajoria.

The Election Commission announced re-polls in one booth in Chhattarpur constituency where the voting machine was damaged. ''There were incidents of boycott in Jharkhand at three polling booths. More than Rs27 lakh was seized by the income tax department and liquor worth Rs97 lakh was recovered. Narcotics worth Rs4.90 lakh was seized in the state,'' said Umesh Sinha, deputy election commissioner.

In view of the Maoist threat, voting started as early as 7 a.m. and ended by 3 p.m.

Officials said a landmine was detected at Hariharganj under the Hussainabad constituency in Palamu district but was defused. Significantly, a large number of women voters turned up at the polling stations to exercise their franchise.

The 13 seats that went to the polls on Tuesday are spread over the six Maoist-infested districts of Palamu, Gumla, Lohardaga, Chatra, Garhwa and Latehar.

Altogether, 199 candidates, including 10 sitting MLAs and a minister, are in the fray in the first phase. The second phase polling for 20 seats will be held on 2 December.

Two districts in the Kashmir Valley, Bandipora and Ganderbal, two in the Ladakh region, Kargil and Leh, and three in the Jammu region, Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar, went to polls on 25 November.

Parties, including independents, have fielded a total of 123 candidates, who are in the fray. Seven ministers of the ruling Congress-NC coalition are seeking re-elections in this phase from Leh, Kangan, Sonawari, Gurez, Banihal, Kishtwar and Doda constituencies which they also represent as sitting legislators in the 87-member assembly.

Interestingly, there are just two female candidates in the race in this round.

As many as 1,050,250 electors, including 549,696 males, 500,539 females and 15 belonging to the third gender, would exercise their franchise at 1,787 polling stations in the 15 assembly constituencies Tuesday.

The highest number of voters, 104,354, are in Bhaderwah assembly constituency while the lowest, 13,054, are in Nubra constituency.

The highest number of candidates, 13 each, are trying their luck in Bhaderwah and Bandipora constituencies while there are just two candidates in the fray in the Leh constituency.

The Election Commission has arranged for videographing of many poll stations during the first phase.

As many as 275 companies of central paramilitary forces and the state police have been deployed in strength to secure polling stations across the state and provide security to voters in this first phase.