Voters walked on frost and through a blanket of fog to log an overwhelming 71% turnout in the second phase of assembly election in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, just shy of the first-round figure.
Jharkhand, another insurgency-hit state to go to polls, recorded 66.38% polling despite this phase coinciding with an annual event of the Maoists’ military wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army.
People of both states defied fear of attack following poll boycott calls by separatists and insurgents, especially residents of frontier areas along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir where 80% polling was recorded in some booths. Kulgam, close to Shopian where back-to-back militant attacks on two sarpanches have rocked the area, showed its contempt for violence with an impressive turnout.
The only people complaining about the cold were the election staff stationed at a godown-turned-booth without heating and food. Voters kept themselves warm with traditional fire pots (kangri) and animated conversations on “change” — the leitmotif of this year’s poll.
“I voted for the Muslim United Front in 1987 but the government murdered democracy then. I picked up the gun and joined militant ranks, but even that didn’t change the political problem. I boycotted all the elections … today I am voting for change,” said 47-year-old former separatist Abdul Gani Lone, who is now a contractor.
Another former separatist, Sajad Gani Lone, who is the People’s Conference candidate for the Handwara seat, had stirred the poll pot calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi an “elder brother”.
In Jharkhand, the fate of two former CMs and three CM probables were sealed in ballot boxes. “We elect the CM, not merely an MLA,” said a BJP supporter in Kharsawan, where former CM Arjun Munda is contesting for a record fifth time.
A crow’s flight away, Chaibasa’s BJP candidate JB Tubid, a former home secretary, is tipped to be CM by dint of his tribal identity. Jamshedpur East and West have two of the BJP’s most powerful leaders and CM probables, Raghubar Das and Saryu Roy.
Former CM Madhu Koda, infamous for his alleged involvement in a multi-crore money laundering scam, is trying his luck from Majhgaon under the banner of Jai Bharat Samanta Party.
Voting was held in 20 constituencies, 16 of them reserved for schedule tribe candidates spread over seven districts. “The overall turnout was 59.46% in 2009 elections in 20 constituencies, which has now crossed the 66% mark,” an election official said, adding the percentage might partially increase after final figures arrive in a day or two.
(With inputs from Sanjoy Dey in Ranchi)