Record turnout in Baramulla LS poll: JeI played clandestine role in mobilising voters, say officials


PTI, May 21, 2024, 8:40 PM IST

The record voter turnout in north Kashmir’s Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency post abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 can be attributed to various factors including the proscribed Jamaat-e-Islami group’s announcement to take the electoral plunge if the ban on it was lifted by the government, highly placed officials have said.

Out of 17,32,459 eligible electorate, a total of 10,07,636 voters (58.17 per cent) exercised their franchise in the constituency — an all-time high since its establishment in 1967. The parliamentary seat is spread across 16 assembly segments of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts and two segments of Budgam district.

While the BJP views the increased participation as a rejection of past governance under the Congress, regional parties like the National Conference and the PDP interpret the historic turnout as a denouncement of the Centre’s policies towards Jammu and Kashmir.

The JeI, which was banned by the central government for five years in February 2019 for terror activities, played a clandestine role in mobilising voters, highly placed officials monitoring the situation said.

According to them, the role of the JeI in significantly impacting the voting dynamics in specific areas like Chicloora, Soibug, Naidkhai, Chitti Bandi, Seelu, and Qaziabad cannot be denied.

JeI was part of the separatist amalgam of Hurriyat Conference which spearheaded poll boycott campaigns after its formation in 1993.

However, the socio-religious outfit, which was said to be the parent organisation of the pro-Pakistan terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, remained neutral after the division of Hurriyat between moderates and hardliners in 2003.

Former JeI chief Ghulam Qadir Wani recently said his organisation will participate in assembly elections if the Centre revokes the ban imposed on the outfit.

”We are holding talks with the Centre. We want to get our ban removed and we want to play our role in society. If the ban is removed, we may take part in the elections,” Wani had said.

Unlike the past when the voters mostly used to stay indoors, especially in pockets having separatist and terrorist influence like Sopore township which has not crossed single-digit voting in the past decades, the May 20 poll witnessed a completely different scene with brisk voting reported from all polling stations since the start of polling.

Baramulla district led the voting turnout with 3,93,566 voters casting their ballots followed by Kupwara (3,38,495 voters), Bandipora (1,53,006) and Budgam (1,22,569), according to the figures issued by poll officials.

In seven assembly segments of Baramulla, Uri recorded the highest 62.94 per cent turnout, followed by Pattan (60.01 per cent), Gulmarg (57.87 per cent), Rafiabad (57.38 per cent), Baramulla (52.15 per cent), Wagoora-Kreeri (49.77 per cent) and Sopore (44.21 per cent).

Similarly, in six segments of Kupwara, Handwara recorded the highest turnout of 72.04 per cent followed by Langate (63.60 per cent), Trehgam (62.56 per cent), Karnah (61.86 per cent) and Lolab (58.77 per cent).

Sonawari segment in Bandipora district was at the top with 62.32 per cent polling followed by Bandipora (59.20 per cent) and Gurez (ST) (40.81 per cent), while two segments of Budgam and Beerwah recorded 52 per cent and 58.80 per cent voting.

The polling on Monday sealed the fate of 22 candidates, including National Conference vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah, separatist-turned-former minister Sajad Lone and two-time former MLA and jailed Awami Ittehad Party chairman Sheikh Abdul Rashid, alias Engineer Rashid.

Abdullah attributed the high voter turnout in the constituency to the electorate’s identification with his party’s stance on the developments post the abrogation of Article 370 and unaddressed issues during the absence of popular governance since 2018.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti saw the high voter turnout as an expression of Kashmiri people’s discontent with the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the erstwhile state’s reorganisation into two Union territories — highlighting a shift towards using ballots to voice dissent instead of resorting to violence.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Jahanzaib Sirwal said the record-breaking turnout in Baramulla following a notable 38 per cent polling in Srinagar, underscores a significant political awakening in the region, signalling a shift towards embracing democratic values and rejecting past misgovernance.

“We strongly commend the nearly 59 per cent turnout on the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, which serves as a powerful endorsement by the people of Kashmir for the democratic values championed by the prime minister’s visionary leadership.

”This historic turnout is a resounding rebuke to those political parties that have acted as brokers for years and a decisive rejection of Congress’s disastrous policies in New Delhi,” Sirwal said.

He said the turnout reflects the people’s trust in the BJP’s leadership and their desire for a peaceful, progressive Kashmir.

“The days of manipulation and misrule are over. Democracy has prevailed,” he said, adding the people of Kashmir have spoken loud and clear, embracing democracy and rejecting the misgovernance of the past.

Sirwal said this turnout is not just evidence but an order of validation passed by the people of Kashmir for the establishment of democratic values under the leadership of Modi.

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