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Holiday mood in Jammu as polling begins

india Updated: Apr 16, 2009 10:32 IST

IANS
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The sky was overcast in this winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday morning and residents took it easy on an extra holiday, while security forces kept their fingers on the trigger as polling began.

Polling for the six Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir has been split over all five phases of this April-May general elections, keeping in mind threats to the polls from Islamist militants.

Polling started at 7 am with securitymen out in strength to guard all polling stations and other parts of the Jammu seat, which went to the hustings in the first phase. But by and large the polling stations in this city were bereft of voters.

This was in sharp contrast to the November-December polls to the state assembly, where voter enthusiasm had been significantly high.

Sham Sunder, a tea vendor who had braved the chill of December and had been the first to vote in Nai Basti area of Jammu, was still at home on Thursday. "I will vote later in the day," he told IANS.

Even the party activists were not very enthusiastic, a reflection of the lacklustre campaign for the parliamentary elections, where the largest campaign rallies did not see a turnaround of over 5,000. The average street corner meeting had 10-15 listeners.

On Thursday morning, Congress candidate Madan Lal Sharma's polling agents did not seem to be making any attempt to get voters to the polling stations. Nor were the agents of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Leela Karan Sharma. The two are considered the leading contenders in the seat. The 1,721,696 voters have a choice between 21 candidates in all.

An hour after polling opened, "no voter has come so far", said Yudhvir Singh, a poll official at Satwari, a congested locality on the road to Jammu airport.

Reports from nearby villages also spoke of a relaxed mood.

"Our men and officers are fully alert," Director General of Police Kuldip Khoda told reporters after taking his first round of the city. " As far as we are concerned, we are fully prepared."

The Army was keeping a strict vigil too. "The army has tightened its vigil along the LoC (Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan)," Brigadier General Staff of 16 Corps Brig Gurdip Singh told IANS.

The Jammu seat has a 300-km-long border with Pakistan from Samba to Poonch.