For the first time in the last 20 years, the discourse on the separatists' boycott call was missing outside the polling booths in the Kashmir Valley.
The 15 constituencies voting in the first-phase of the assembly elections have witnessed massive increase in turnout in the state with the figure crossing the 70% mark - higher than national average of 66.3% in the 2014 general elections. The average is same or higher for the five constituencies in the Valley.
While in the militancy-affected Bandipora the turnout was 70%, around 11% more than the 2008 election, in central Kashmir's Ganderbal area it was 68%, 13% more than 2008. Gurez and Kangan are set to see even higher turnout.
The constituencies which had recorded between 45 and 55% turnout in 2008 crossed the 60% mark by 2 pm with two more hours of voting to go.
The north Kashmir constituency in Gurez even crossed 66.5% by 2 pm. The same areas like Naidkai in Sonawari have witnessed killings of youth, stone pelting even as early as this year. The areas also saw widespread street protests in the 2010 summer unrest.
The areas, where turnout was extremely low during the Lok Sabha elections, saw people coming out to vote in large numbers.
Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Ganderbal had seen only 64 votes being cast in May 2014, but by 9 pm, just an hour after the voting started in the state, 69 males and 51 females had cast their vote in the same booth. Voters defied curfew-like conditions and ignoring election boycott calls from separatist leaders.
The message was very clear Kashmiri people want to separate their daily, unmet needs of water, electricity and food from the larger question of azadi. "We have grievances, unemployment, bad roads and lack of electricity, if we have a person known to us in state assembly we can always hold him accountable," said Ghulam Nabi Mir, a local businessman. "A legitimately voted government can then think about the larger issue," Mir added.
Unlike the previous elections, the separatists chose to stay out. Although there were guarded calls for boycott, the Valley did not witness any anti-poll campaigns.The percentage in the Valley was higher than the seven constituencies in the Jammu region and three in Ladakh.
Voters showing their voters slips as they are waiting for their turn to cast vote on the first phase polling at a polling booth in Doda near Jammu on Tuesday. Nitin Kanotra / HT Photo
While voting started on a slow note in 15 assembly constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir due to cold weather, it picked up as the sun came out.
While the overall percentage for the state was 34.1% by noon, it was touching 40% mark in most areas, including the five valley seats of Gurez, Sonawari, Bandipora, Ganderbal and Kangan.
Officials said voting started peacefully in all 15 constituencies. "While it started on slow note in the morning it started picking up after 9.30-10 in the morning," an official said.
Dressed in traditional Kashmiri clothes, men and women, even accompanied by children braved the cold and were seen waiting outside polling stations to exercise their franchise.
In central Kashmir's Ganderbal constituency, the area which chief minister Omar Abdullah left for Sonawar and Beerwah, the issues seemed basic. Jamila, a voter was standing outside polling booth A in Pandach area, with six other women from her family. The group wanted to vote before their day of enormous chores start. "We wanted to come early, so that we can carry on with our household chores," she said. For them the reasons were basic -- bijli, sadak and pani. "For last three days the transformer in our area is not working. These are the basic things we want and voting is important for that," she said.
Nusrat, a first-time voter in the second year of her graduation was voting because her older relatives were unemployed even with good university degrees. "I don't want to end up like them," she said.
The total number of registered voters at this booth is 739 and by 9.30 am 126 votes were already cast. This included 66 males and 60 males.
Ganderbal is witnessing close fight between National Conference and PDP. A former National Conference leader, Ghulam Rasool Saloora is also proving to be a tough competition.
A little ahead, Kangan constituency, which has traditionally been a strong NC stronghold, witnessed brisk polling since early morning. NC candidate Mian Altaf expressed satisfaction that people have rejected the separatists' boycott call. "Our agents are telling me that people who used to boycott earlier elections have also voted this time," he said.
In Wasan Kangan A, at 10.30 am out of the 956, 172 people had exercised their franchise.
"We are voting for change and if we stay home and don't vote how will the change come," said Nazir Ahmad, a teacher voting at the Boys Higher Secondary School in Kangan.In booth number 39 at the school out of 733 votes 374 were in by 11 pm. The numbers were almost same in rest of the constituency as well.
Voters standing in a queue to cast their votes outside the polling booth in Sonawari on Tuesday. Waseem Andrabi/ HT Photo
The Assembly segments going to polls include Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban and Banihal (in Jammu division); Gurez, Bandipora, Sonawari, Kangan and Ganderbal (in Kashmir); Nobra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar (in Ladakh).
A total of 10.5 lakh voters, including 5.5 lakh males and 5 lakh 539 females, besides 13 transgenders are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase of the polls.