DANISH ZARGAR/ AFZAL SOFI
SOPORE: Known for its pro-freedom leanings, Sopore town stayed away from the parliamentary elections on Wednesday.
All polling booths in the town had been concentrated in Sopore Degree College, Muslims Educational Trust, and a Higher Secondary School. And all three were heavily guarded jointly by the police, the Special Operations Group (SOG), paramilitary CRPF, and the army.
In the degree college, more than one dozen polling booths were deployed at the last minute in view of security threats. The largest polling station in the deserted town had been converted into a fortress.
Armored vehicles of SOG and police were guarding the college from outside, and inside, unlike most polling stations, army men carrying LMGs were manning all gates to the main building, which is already surrounded by camps of SOG, CRPF, and the army.
Yet, after about three hours of the start of polling, no one had turned up to vote in most booths in the college. Not even the polling agents had turned up.
At Muslimpeer and Bagaat polling booth, for instance, none of 549 and 303 votes, respectively, had been polled by around 10 am. The highest number of votes polled were at Arampora booth where two out of 647 registered voters had turned up.
“We were supposed to collect the material and scatter to our respective polling stations from here, but they decided at the last minute to shift all polling stations. Now, we have been waiting here since morning, but no one has turned up,” said a presiding officer at one of the booths.
At Arampora, in the vicinity of the station, the youths were playing cricket and elderly had gathered in groups in the market closed due to strike. None, however, appeared keen to cast the vote.
“What for shall we vote,” asked Ghulam Nabi, a local. “We neither want roads, nor power. We only want freedom.”
“Government has to give us roads anyway because we pay taxes. Nobody is doing us a favour, and we are not going to be misled by the promises of these politicians. We have never voted, and we will never vote,” he added.
The entire town wore a deserted look with no civilian movement on the roads having hefty forces deployment at many places right from Sangrama—the gateway to Sopore town. The polling booths were at a distance from the areas concerned, suggesting that the administration was already aware of the outcome of polling.
“The polling booth for Model Town Sopore is about 2.5 kms from the area. Even if someone wants to vote, it is difficult to travel 2.5 kms in this situation. It seems the election was only a formality here; the government already knew what was going to happen,” Haji Bashir Ahmad from Model Town said.
In adjoining Dangerpora, which had seen brisk polling in the previous elections, only nine votes had been polled at two booths housed in a local higher secondary school by 10:30 a m.
The youths were standing outside the house of the local MLA Mohammad Ashraf Ganai to keep an eye on his loyalists who were likely to vote.
“In previous elections, the loyalists and agents of these local MLAs voted, bringing a bad name to the area. But this time, all are staying away from the elections,” said a youth, wishing anonymity.
Even the relatives of the MLAs didn’t vote for being disheartened by the performance of pro-India politicians.
“I suffered so much while campaigning for my uncle in the previous elections, but he forgot all that when he got the power. I shall be a fool to vote again,” Abdul Majeed Hajam said.
Boycott was also witnessed at Dooro, the hometown of Hurriyat (G) Chairman Syed Ali Geelani. The youths gathered outside the booth and protested almost throughout the day.
“We are committed to boycott,” said a youth.
The boycott was officially confirmed by the evening. Only 1.08 per cent voters had voted in Sopore as per the official figures.