The faith in power of vote to change and make government was reflected in twin northern constituencies of Sonawari and Bandipora that saw confluence of separatist sentiment and development politics in the spike of voting percentage to new levels. Both these regions are prone to militancy and separatist movements.
By 10am in the morning, 160 votes were polled out of 1116 with people jostling in queues outside. People from different age groups including children, elderly to young were present to cast their votes. The picture was repeated in most polling booths here.
"I am voting for change. This is the only way to punish those who ignored the development front," said Raja Begam (45), who claims to have voted for different political parties since 2002. She doesn't want to talk about the Kashmir issue and separatists like most others in the line.
There were no visible signs of poll boycott in entire Sonawari except for shut markets. Sonawari is witnessing a triangular contest between NC's Muhammad Akbar Lone, People's Democratic Party's Yasir Reshi and Congress' Parray.
Militancy is waning, so are allegations of coercion by security forces. The change is visible in tone and tenor of slain counter-insurgent Kuka Parray's son Imtiyaz Parray at Hajin, who sounds apologetic about his father's violence.
"It was gun versus gun then. I apologise for my father's whatever misdeeds. I may be killed for being Parray's son, but no one will open fire at Imtiyaz for who I am. I have expelled all those elements who were disliked by people," said Parray, who describes the 2013 Markundal killing of a youth by the army as "innocent killing".
Change in Kashmir mood and confluence of many strands, including separatism, is visible in both Sonawari and Bandipora segments. "People are voting to keep BJP at bay. Though all mainstream parties are the same, BJP poses a threat," said Nazir Ahmad, a Jamat-e-Islami supporter, who boycotted the polls.
But Mushtaq Ahmad, a supporter of hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani, is a polling agent at Shadipora. "Don't mix azaadi with development," said Ahmad.
Dozens of voters outside polling stations swear by Azaadi but oppose separatists boycott politics. "We have been boycotting for ages now. We can't sustain on sentiment. Boycott politics pushed my constituency 15 years back. This time I voted to see development in Bandipora," said Tanveer Ahmad, a Class 12 student, who takes pride in throwing stones against security forces since 2008, while sitting outside once-militancy hub Bandipora's Nowpora area. "Once polls are over, people will be back in streets with Azadi slogans," he added.
The takeaway of the first phase of Kashmir polls is people reposing faith in mainstream parties to resolve Kashmir issue, a departure from the past. "We are voting so that Kashmir issue is resolved peacefully through representatives in the state assembly. No more violence now. We saw how the 2002 polls opened roads to Pakistan and trade started between divided Kashmir. They have power to resolve Kashmir issue. Vote is our voice. We are not voting against Hurriyat but for leaders to help end the problems, including the bigger problem," said Bilal Ahmad, a voter outside the Ajas school polling booth.
Bandipora, once militant hotbed, voted despite early morning explosion and crosses 55 percent mark by 3pm. The constituency sees a close contest between Congress' Usman Majeed and PDP's Nizam-ud-Din Bhat.