This Article is From Dec 09, 2014

Turnout Today in Kashmir Elections Will Be Crucial

Vote? It's too cold to vote. It's too cold to report on the voting. It's the weather to curl up under a thick quilt with a kangri to watch the India-Australia test match.

And yet out into the cold we all must go, because this is one of the most crucial days of polling that Kashmir has ever seen. Phase three of the elections in Jammu Kashmir extends to three sensitive districts in the valley, and the turnout here will be a very clear indicator of how much things could have changed on the ground.

Among those districts is Baramulla. This includes the constituencies of Uri, which saw that big terror attack a few days ago, and Sopore - the traditional bastion of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Areas like Sopore have hardly ever seen any voting, and so even a modest turnout will have huge implications.

Also polling is the Pulwama region of South Kashmir, which also saw a couple of attacks on Friday. This district includes constituencies like Tral, which are one of the few remaining spots in the valley which have some militant presence.

Then there is Budgam district, which includes Omar Abdullah's new constituency of Beerwah. I would be astonished if you didn't see a big turnout here -- because that's usually the case.

In short, the impact of the turnout figure today really depends from constituency to constituency. Some parts of the Valley, especially in the rural areas, have often seen decent polling, and so the queues have less meaning. Other areas, especially in urban centres usually see a boycott. And so even a handful of voters means a big change.

All parts of downtown Srinagar look completely normal this morning. People bustling in the markets, mini traffic jams on some of the roads in Khanyar. And hardly any security presence. Not even near the Idgah and Kawadara bunkers.

This has long been a major separatist stronghold, where the writ of the Mirwaiz runs. He hasn't been campaigning much for a boycott, involving himself in flood relief and rehabilitation efforts instead. But even now, stone pelters often take to the streets in downtown Srinagar, and so the calm this morning is interesting to see.

Srinagar doesn't vote today - the city goes to the polls on Sunday. But given that polling is taking place just a few kilometres away in Budgam and Pattan, the lack of tension is in sharp contrast to previous elections.

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