Bandipora: In elections held for 15 Panch seats out of the total 182 in Bandipora panchayat block, 24 percent polling was recorded on Tuesday. In the rest 106 Panch seats, 61 candidates had already been declared winners unopposed while 45 seats stayed vacant due to absence of any candidate.
In Aragam village, where the population comprises mostly the nomadic Gujjar community, the mood seemed dull at the polling booth. Armoured vehicles and paramilitary troops were present all around the school ground where the polling booth had been set up. Locals in ones and twos arrived intermittently to cast their vote.
Three Sarpanch seats and two Panch seats were being contested here. A CRPF personnel on duty at the polling booth said, “Situation here has been peaceful. People came to cast their vote in the morning chill.”
Outside the polling booth, that had no boundary wall, a good number of youths and elderly people watched the happenings with enthusiasm. Among them was Mohammad Zafraan, a fruit grower and a former Sarpanch of the village. A postgraduate in Urdu from Maulana Azad national university, he said “casting a vote is a sin.”
Mohammad Zafraan contested the Panchayat elections in 2011 and won the Sarpanch seat by more than 400 votes. He served in office till 2015. It didn’t serve his purpose, he told Kashmir Reader.
“I contested so that I could stop the oppression of corruption, but I failed miserably. The corrupt had greater hands. Though even I once asked for votes, now I feel it was a mistake,” he said.
Distraught at the politics of the state, he said, “There is no faith in politics here. Even during the assembly elections, the PDP made an alliance with BJP for personal benefits. Youth are being ignored, corruption is at its peak, only bribe and lobbying works, and merit is being ignored. All this pushes the youth to the wall. Even scholars are taking to the extreme path.”
On what could be the solution to this, he said that he met New Delhi’s interlocutor on Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, and told him that “the will of the people here is being ignored.”
He said that political parties approached him to contest for Sarpanch again, but he refused. “If there are 95 percent people who have decided something, that is the right way. The other five percent are heading towards wrong and we must not take that road. For me, contesting the election was a mistake and contesting again would no way make it better,” Zafraan said.
For him, the people taking interest in politics are illiterate or downtrodden, like the people of his own community. “I should not feel ashamed; the downtrodden people and illiterates are the ones mostly taking part in elections or showing interest in politics. All the candidates in fray haven’t finished school. The literate and university and college-educated youth are staying away from it (politics) because of injustices and oppression they face,” he said.
At the polling booth at Guroora, a posse of CRPF troops stood guard outside while a few voters had come to cast their votes. An old woman made her way slowly, cutting across the steep slope on which the polling station was located in a government school. As she came out after casting her vote, exhausted and breathless, she sat on the stairs holding a fire pot in one hand.
She identified herself as Asha Begum, aged 73. She said she was compelled to cast her vote, the reason for which she could not share.
“Yes, I cast my vote here; look at the mark on my finger. I had to cast the vote it was out of compulsion. The reason, I cannot share,” she said, looking helpless.