Jammu and Kashmir saw a record turnout of 90 per cent on Monday in the polls for four legislative council seats. Nearly 34,000 panchs and sarpanchs were eligible to vote, and they came out in strong numbers defying threats and boycott calls by hardline separatists. The polls for the reserved seats were held after a gap of 30 years.
"This vote is very important for us. We want development that is why we are voting," said a panchayat member.
The turnaround comes after a wave of resignations by panchayat members earlier this year, triggered by militant threats. But as campaigning picked up, that fear was replaced by election euphoria.
"The fear has gone. These elections are important for development," said Gulzar Ahmad, a panchayat member.
Last year the historic panchayat elections were held in the state after a gap of 34 years. With massive public participation, around 34,000 panchs and sarpanchs were elected, but those gains were hit by the mass resignations of panchayat members in the last six months over threats to their lives - that's why holding a peaceful election was a tough task.
"Holding of peaceful and incident free election is always a challenge. With the efforts of men on ground and cooperation of public we have been able to achieve it," said Syed Ahfadul Mujataba, Deputy Inspector General, Central Kashmir.
National Conference and Congress - partners in the ruling coalition - are contesting the elections jointly and have fielded two candidates each for the four seats.
The opposition parties, including opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Panthers Party, have fielded candidates on all four seats while the Bharatiya Janata Party is contesting on three seats - two from Jammu region and one from Kashmir Valley. The Bahujan Samaj Party has also fielded three candidates.
Counting of votes will take place on December 6 and the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be shifted from all district headquarters to Jammu and Srinagar today and tomorrow.
The main contest in these elections is between the NC-Congress alliance and the PDP. The outcome will decide which side represents the majority of Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir.