In Budgam, troops on election duty discuss: Why are people not voting?

In Budgam, troops on election duty discuss: Why are people not voting?
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BUDGAM: After boycotting the urban local bodies’ polls, people in Budgam have shown a similar response to the Panchayat elections, which have witnessed no polling in Budgam, Rathsun, Soibugh, Watrihal and Beerwah blocks due to lack of candidates.
On Tuesday, the fourth round of the nine-phase panchayat elections was scheduled in Beerwah and Watrihal blocks of the district, but no voting was held except for a single Panch seat in Beerwah.
Meanwhile, the candidates who have won the elections unopposed or who have filed nominations are nowhere to be seen. They have either gone into hiding or have been shifted to “secured accommodations” by the government.
The boycott, or disinterest, of the people has not only raised questions on the credibility of the elections from political observers but also from paramilitary troops who have come from different states of India for election duties.
On Tuesday, the lone polling booth for panchayat constituency 10(X) – situated in a primary school in Sonpah – had literally turned into a “garrison” with paramilitary troops outnumbering civilians.
Inside the booth, two staffers and two agents waited eagerly for voters to arrive. Till 12 o’clock, however, only 20 votes had been cast out of a total 134. Outside the booth, only troops were seen moving about, waiting for the closing time.
An ITBP trooper who had come from Himachal Pradesh told this reporter, “I have performed election duties in almost twenty states of India. It is my first chance to witness an election here. I am amazed to see the huge deployment of forces even without any voters.”
The soldier asked how this could be called an election when most of the people had preferred to stay away from the polling booth.
He went on to say, “I have learned from a media person that about 350 wards were supposed to go for polling today in this district, but polling is being held only here, in a single ward with only 134 registered voters. The rest of the people who live in other wards are also citizens of Kashmir. Why are they not voting?”
Another paratrooper intervened to say, “In other states of India, only two or three (paramilitary) troopers are deployed at an election booth. But you look around here and it is only our men and polling staff, nobody else.”
Another trooper, who identified him as Ramesh, seemed to be more aware about the Kashmir problem. “I was here during the parliamentary by-polls last year. We faced stiff resistance from the local youths that day. Staying away from the democratic process conveys the message that something is wrong. It is also a means of dissent,” he said.
He continued, “It is not necessary to resort to violence. Peaceful means of dissent such as this (election boycott) are more powerful means of protest.”
As the discussion continued, a group of ITBP personnel encircled this reporter. Among them, a tall man wearing a black mask said, “I must accept that this is a place where people choose not to elect their representative, and rather prefer to stay away from polling.”
Addressing a polling agent, a trooper asked, “Why is it so? It is perplexing. In other states elections are like festivals. Why is it so gloomy here?”
Without uttering a single word, the polling agent – a person in his thirties – preferred to leave the discussion and return to the polling booth, to inquire about the total polling.
Meanwhile, some officials of CRPF accompanied by the SSP Budgam came to the booth. They told the deployed troops to stay alert and then left.
Javaid Beigh, a local villager of Sonpah who is currently PA to Awami Ittehad Party leader Er Rasheed, said that the people of Kashmir have lost faith in democratic institutions.
He said that this is due to the anti-Kashmir stance adopted by the central government. “It is because of their communal approach that people of Kashmir seem to have lost faith in the system,” he said.
The Beerwah Panchayat block is divided into 27 Sarpanch Halqas and 237 Panch Wards, out of which 17 Sarpanch and 214 Panch seats are lying vacant. Nine Sarpanch and 22 Panch candidates have been declared winners without any contest.
The block witnessed voting only for a single Panch seat—Sonpah, where two candidates were in fray.
Watrihal block comprises 9 Sarpanch Halqas and 77 Panch wards. Among them, no candidate had filed nominations for five Sarpanch and 71 Panch seats. Four Sarpanchs and 6 Panchs were elected unopposed, officials said.
Earlier, only 12 nominees had come forward to file nominations for Sarpanch seats in Beerwah and eight in Watrihal. Later, two candidates from Beerwah and four from Watrihal withdrew their nominations.
In Beerwah and Watrihal, 27 and 8 candidates filed nominations for the Panch seats, respectively. Later, three contestants from Beerwah and two from Watrihal took back their papers.
Beerwah block has the highest number of Sarpanch and Panch seats among 17 blocks of district Budgam.