Women defy boycott call as Anantnag votes peacefully

Women defy boycott call as Anantnag votes peacefully

Anantnag, June 22 (IANS) Defying the boycott call of the separatists, burqa-clad women in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag assembly constituency on Wednesday outnumbered men in this historic town in exercising their franchise. The polling ended peacefully with 33.84 per cent votes cast, less than the last time in 2014.

“Polling ended peacefully in Anantnag assembly constituency, 33.84 per cent voter turnout was recorded against 40 per cent during the 2014 general elections,” the state’s Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu said here, adding that in both the urban and rural segments, women voters outnumbered men.

There were 117 polling stations in the constituency and 13 polling stations were set up outside the constituency for migrant voters.

Voting started at 7 a.m., with fewer people lining up outside polling stations. A mere four per cent turnout was recorded during the first one hour.

But the morning’s shy trickle of voters gradually changed into small queues in rural areas even as the turnout in urban areas was still very low.

In Khanabal High School near Anantnag town, where two polling centres were set up, burqa-clad women formed the bulk of voters.

The story was same at Rambirpora, Krangsoo, Kehribal and several other places. It seemed women were determined to defy the separatists’ calls to boycott the elections. The separatists too did not enforce their diktat.

After Mehbooba Mufti was sworn-in as the state’s first woman chief minister on April 4, it became mandatory for the Peoples Democratic Party President to become a member of either house of the bicameral legislature.

Anantnag was represented in the 87-member legislative assembly by her late father and then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed till he passed away on January 7 in a New Delhi hospital.

Peace prevailed in the town and adjoining areas though militants and separatists had asked people to boycott the process.

“Voting continued at all the polling stations smoothly through the day and there has been no militancy related incident anywhere,” the official said.

Police and paramilitary forces were deployed in strength to prevent any untoward.

The army was also deployed in what was known as “area domination” duty in the periphery of the constituency to ensure an incident-free poll. There was a complete shutdown in Anantnag town.

Wednesday was declared a public holiday in the constituency. Traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, which passes through this town, moved normally. Movement of vehicles carrying tourists to the Pahalgam health resort was also normal.

Mehbooba Mufti visited a number of polling stations. But she refused to speak to the media, at Rambirpora village, where journalists sought her comments, she said: “I will speak to you when I have something to say.”

There are seven other candidates in the fray, including Hilal Ahmad Shah of the Congress and Iftikhar Hussain Misgar of the National Conference.

“Counting of votes will start at 8 a.m. at Degree College Anantnag on June 25”, Shantmanu told reporters.

Speaking to IANS after voting, few people aired doubts about Mehbooba Mufti’s victory.

“We know she will not solve international issues but will definitely address unemployment, education, healthcare and give us better roads, and she will also empower women,” said Shafeeqa Begum, 45.

Shafeeqa, however, believes — like many others — that a narrow victory margin could dent her image as a popular chief minister whose party has its base and is dominant in the south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam.

The Muftis belong to the neighbouring Bijbehara town.

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