J&K | Families Of Active Militants, Youth Root For Democracy As Baramulla LS Seat Sees Record Voting

BARAMULLA, May 20: The match was underway, yet a team of young cricketers decided to step off the field out of a sense of social responsibility and a desire for change — they were among those who exercised their franchise in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency that saw record polling on Monday.

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The election saw several interesting highlights — players stopping a match midway to vote, former hardline separatists and families of active militants rooting for democracy, and supercentenarians and persons with disabilities overcoming difficulties in reaching polling booths.
The Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, which was once militancy-infested, recorded its highest-ever voter turnout at 59 per cent on a violence-free polling day.
A group of local players left their cricket match midway and reached a polling station in the Siloo area of Sopore in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district which is part of the Baramulla Parliamentary constituency.
Once dubbed ‘chota Pakistan’, Sopore recorded a healthy turnout of 44 per cent after recording single-digit polling percentages in the past couple of decades. It saw a turnout of just 4.3 per cent in the 2019 general elections.
“We have come to vote. The youth, the new generation, wants a revolution of sorts, we want a change from what has been going on,” one of the young cricketers said.
He said the youth want development and his vote was for that.
Another player, Muazzin Manzoor, a first-time voter, said a vote was necessary for development.
“For the last 70 years, there has not been much improvement. So, I voted for the first time to bring change,” he said.
In another interesting highlight, a groom in the Nowshera area of the Uri assembly segment cast his vote before tying the knot.
Dressed in traditional attire with a garland around his neck, the groom appealed to the people to vote.
Among the voters was the former general secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), Ghulam Qadir Lone, who cast his vote in the Kralgund area of the Handwara assembly segment.
“We have been voting for a long time, right since the 1975 panchayat elections. When we contested the elections under the MUF, rigging took place and we lost faith in democracy,” Lone said referring to the 1987 assembly polls when alleged rigging took place.
Since a long time has passed since 1987, people are hopeful that there will be no rigging in the elections now.
“Perhaps, the government of India has realised that the youth took a strong objection to the rigging of the elections and if such a thing is repeated, then the situation will deteriorate,” he added.
Lone said the youth should perform their positive role to ensure a bright future for Jammu and Kashmir.
“We will definitely participate in the elections. At an individual level also, but if the party is restored, it will too. If the ban is revoked, we will participate in the elections properly,” he said when asked whether the JeI would take part in elections in the future.
Realising the futility of violence, families of active militants were among those who expressed faith in democracy and exercised their franchise.
An active Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant’s brother said the vote was his right.
“Voting is my right, so I cast my vote. I appeal to everybody to cast their vote as developmental work will take place after that. Come to the polling booths and don’t waste your vote,” Rouf Lone, brother of LeT militant Umar Lone, told reporters in Pattan in the north Kashmir district here.
Rouf used the opportunity to appeal to his brother, an active LeT militant, who is wanted in several militancy-related cases, to surrender.
Similarly, Dawood Ahmad — brother of another militant Bilal Ahmad — also cast his vote. He too appealed to his brother to give up arms.
Ghulam Hassan Mir, father of Umar Mir — an active militant — said he voted for development.
“Umar went astray and took that path (militancy). We do not know about Umar, police are also looking for him. I voted today, it is our right. The vote has many benefits,” Mir said.
There were several centenarians and super-centenarians among the voters.
At 120, Ghulam Mohammad Rathar cast the inaugural vote on Monday morning at a polling station in Sopore while 115-year-old Saja Begum cast her vote at a polling station in Panzgam Kupwara.
Padamshree awardee and J&K Youth Icon for SVEEP, Faisal Ali Dar, cast his vote at a youth-managed polling station in Bandipora. He urged the people, especially youth, to exercise their franchise and elect their representatives.
Model polling stations in Baramulla were buzzing with energy as voters in large numbers thronged to exercise their right to vote. Pink, green and youth-managed polling booths were decked up to attract the voters, especially first-time voters.