KHAN SAHAB (BUDGAM): The first phase of panchayat elections in Khan Sahab panchayat block in central Kashmir’s Budgam district recorded 37.61 percent turnout of voters on Saturday.
The elections were held for 9 Panchayat Halqas in 81 polling stations. However, there was complete secrecy about the names of candidates and the political parties they belong to.
“The candidates who were in the fray were non-existent on the ground. The electorate did not know who the candidates were in their wards. The contestants ensured their identity remains a mystery,” said a resident of Khan Sahab village.
At a polling station in Raiyar-Ich, there was zero voting in the first five hours of polling. It was “unbelievable” for an ITBP solider who had come from Uttar Pradesh to perform election duties here.
Polling started early morning at 8am, he said, and added: “No vote has been cast. The polling is zero.” He said this at 12:45pm.
Corroborating his remarks was an official sitting idle inside a polling booth that was almost frozen with cold. He said, “There are a total of 97 registered voters at this booth. It is 12:45pm and not a single voter has turned up.”
A paramilitary soldier posted at the gate of the polling both said that in his 20 years of service, he had been sent to polling duty in at least four states. “In the rest of the states the voters come out in large numbers. Here, it is totally opposite. I have witnessed polling booths where only security forces standing guard are to be seen,” he said.
Another paramilitary solider who identified himself as Laxman told Kashmir Reader, “I was expecting untoward incidents here but let me tell you the truth: the elections are going on peacefully.”
Addressing a fellow soldier, he said, “Had you been here during the parliamentary elections, you would have been lynched by a violent mob. There was chaos all around. Stone-pelting was at its peak.”
Another soldier, guarding the pooling booth of Ward 7 in Yarikhah, some 20 kilometres away from district headquarters, said, “In all the years of my service I have spent in Kashmir, this is the first time when I am seeing people casting their vote in large numbers.”
Eleven polling booths were established in Yarikhah at the government high school, which is situated on top of a karewa, along an underdeveloped road connecting Khan Sahab with dozens of villages.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, a lady contesting for the Sarpanch seat in Raiyar-Beru area said, “I am contesting the elections to redress the multiple problems faced by our backward area for decades.”
At the polling station for wards 3 and 4, a scuffle broke out between a policeman guarding a polling booth and a voter, who allegedly tried to enter the booth for a second time to cast his vote.
The two exchanged blows before they were pacified by other paramilitary guards and the polling staff.
Till 12:15pm, 40 votes were cast in Ward-11, out of a total 155. In Ward-1, 90 votes were polled out of the 121 total votes. In Ward-8, 24 votes were polled out of 90. In Ward-7, 21 votes were polled out of a total 134. In Ward-6, 63 votes were cast out of a total 106.
“The good thing is that the situation has remained peaceful till now. We are hardly bothered about who wins or loses,” said a paramilitary soldier who identified himself as Shailendra. “We are bound to perform duties wherever we are posted,” he said and disappeared inside the mobile bunker established for the troops outside the polling booth.
In Khan Sahab panchayat block there are 26 Panchayat Halqas with a total of 222 Panchayat wards. Out of these, 13 Sarpanchs and 89 Panchs have already won the elections uncontested. Polling is being held for 9 Sarpanch seats, for which the total electoral is 12,499.
A total of 22 Sarpanch candidates are in the fray in the entire block. For Panch seats, a total of 35 candidates are in the fray.
The polling percentage today, as per latest figures issued by the district administration, was 37.61%.