The fifth phase of panchayat polls in Jammu & Kashmir began on Thursday in the backdrop of an ambush in the Valley, where the Joint Resistance Leadership has given a boycott call.
The ambush was led by government forces to kill trapped militants in a residential house at Sharshali area of Khrew Awantipora, an area of South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Two Hizb ul-Mujahideen militants were killed during the ambush.
Also Read: J&K Panchayat Polls Begin Amid Complete Shutdown in Valley
In this phase, voting took place in 2,512 polling stations - 769 in Kashmir division and 1,743 in Jammu division. In 2,512 stations, 848 polling stations were categorised as ‘hypersensitive’ - 755 in Kashmir and 93 in division.
The overall turnout in Jammu and Kashmir was recorded 71.1%.
In Kashmir, the lowest turnout was recorded at 0.5% in Pulwama district and the highest turnout was recorded at 34.8% in Budgam.
In Jammu division, the highest turnout was recorded 89.1% in Reasi.
In Kashmir, voting took place in Kupwara, Bandipora and Baramulla districts of northern part of Kashmir. In South Kashmir, voting took place in Pulwama and Anantnag. Two districts of Central Kashmir, Budgam and Ganderbal, also went through polling.
In Jammu division voting took place in Doda, Ramban, Rajouri, Poonch, Reasi, Udhampur and Jammu city.
Meanwhile, the rise in attacks on political workers and contestants has sent shock waves among sarpanchs and panchs of mainstream political parties across Kashmir, forcing many of them to move to Srinagar temporarily.
One of the contestants (wishing anonymity) from the Pulwama district told NewsClick that it was very dangerous to be there. Everyone needs protection which is not possible, especially in South Kashmir, he said.
J&K’s Estate Department has provided accommodation to all the contestants in Srinagar. The department has hired many hotels and every hotel has at least six troops of the Sashastra Seema Bal. As per details provided by the department, monthly expenses on one person are Rs 15,000, including food and lodging.
“Is insecurity just among contestants?”, said an officer deployed at a polling station in Pulwama, one of the utmost volatile zones of Valley. Sharing the perspective of the Army, he said while performing their duty, their minds are always alert and full of anxiety from the threat of being attacked. He further said that it was like being ‘caged in room.’ Although they get paid for their service, they cannot refuse orders.
Attacks on Panchayat houses have been adding fuel to the tension.
Many people in the Valley are boycotting the elections, as civilian killings during ambushes and at protests have increased anger towards the Army and the government.
As per political activists in Kashmir, the situation in the Valley is not conducive for elections.
Every day one or two civilians get killed by government forces, say activists, adding that the state must put in efforts to improve human rights conditions, only then would people leave their homes to cast votes.
In South Kashmir the percentage of voter turnout never goes above 0.4% to 1%, which reflects that people aren’t willing to cast their votes.