For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

Baramulla Turnout Highest in Kashmir This Year at 54%; Number Set to Rise Further

The bitterly contested electoral battle will decide the fate of former J&K CM and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah, who is in the fray along with Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone and the Awami Ittehad Party’s incarcerated leader, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad.
A woman security officer at a ‘pink polling station’ in Magam village in Baramulla. Photo: Ubaid Mukhtar.

New Delhi: The Baramulla constituency set a new record in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections in the Kashmir valley, with more than 54% of eligible adults exercising their franchise on Monday (May 20).

The bitterly contested electoral battle will decide the fate of former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister and National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah, who is in the polling fray along with Peoples Conference (PC) chairman Sajad Lone and the Awami Ittehad Party’s incarcerated leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmad.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Mehbooba Mufti has fielded former Rajya Sabha member Mir Fayaz from Baramulla, but he is the most unpopular leader in the contest.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Voting in the north Kashmir constituency began on a slow note with a little over 7% of more than 11 lakh eligible voters exercising their franchise until 9 am on Monday.

However, the numbers more than tripled to over 21% by 11 am, increasing to 35% by 1 pm and over 54% by 5 pm.

Officials said the turnout is likely to rise by the end of the polling day.

Several dozens of enthusiastic voters, a good number of them women, were seen queuing up outside polling stations to cast their ballot in parts of the constituency, including the former separatist hotbeds of Sopore and Palhalan in Baramulla district and also in Magam, Pattan and Budgam.

“I voted for Engineer Rashid [a popular name of Sheikh Rashid Ahmad],” a young voter (name withheld on request) said after casting his vote in Palhalan locality of Baramulla district.

“If he gets elected, we will get a good representative in parliament. He is the only Kashmiri politician who speaks truth to power.”

Engineer Rashid’s entry in the electoral contest has changed the electoral equation in the constituency, giving jitters to both the NC as well as the PC, who are likely to suffer some setbacks in parts of north Kashmir where Rashid enjoys widespread popularity.

A feisty politician, Rashid, who was jailed on charges of terror funding in 2019 after the reading down of Article 370, quit his government job in 2008 to successfully contest the assembly elections from the Langate constituency of north Kashmir.

He launched the Awami Ittehad Party in 2013, a year ahead of the 2014 J&K assembly elections.

Over the years, Rashid’s appeal has grown in Kashmir, especially among those families whose loved ones have been described as ‘anti-nationals’, ‘secessionists’, ‘threats to India’s sovereignty’ and ‘sympathisers’ of the Kashmiri separatist movement, and thrown into jails hundreds of miles away from their homes since 2019.

With Rashid himself in jail and fewer resources to fund the campaign, his son Abrar Rashid had been reaching out to voters ahead of polling day and urging them to support his ‘innocent’ father so that he could walk out of jail.

Using emotive slogans and speeches, Abrar attracted significant support in some pockets of north Kashmir, which political analysts believe could cast a shadow over Lone’s prospects.

Women in Pattan village of Baramulla waiting in queue to cast their vote. Photo: Ubaid Mukhtar.

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, Rashid stood third, with a little over 1,000 votes less than his PC rival Raja Aijaz Ali and around 31,000 votes behind the winner and NC leader Akbar Lone.

Meanwhile, brisk voting was recorded in the Shia-dominated areas of Budgam and Magam, hotbeds of the NC, and Pattan assembly constituency, from where PC leader and former J&K minister Imran Reza Ansari was elected on a PDP ticket in the 2014 assembly elections.

Moderate voting was also recorded in Beerwah, from where Omar Abdullah was elected to the legislative assembly in the 2014 elections.

“My father used to vote for the plough symbol. I also voted for the plough and my son too will vote for the plough. Nothing can change our love for the NC,” said Ghulam Rasool, a voter in the Beerwah constituency.

The plough is the NC’s election symbol.

The junior Abdullah moved from the Srinagar constituency, his father Farooq Abdullah’s stronghold, and filed his nomination from the Baramulla constituency, arguing that he was fighting against the saffron party’s proxy candidate, Sajad Lone.

This is a charge denied by the PC chief, who has accused the former J&K CM of being the first leader from Kashmir to work with the saffron party.

The Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency was redrawn by the Election Commission in the 2022 delimitation exercise in J&K, after which the number of its assembly segments increased from 15 to 18.

Following the delimitation exercise, the Trehgam assembly segment was carved out in Kupwara, the only new assembly segment in Lone’s home district and which was added to Kashmir’s earlier tally of 46 seats in the J&K legislative assembly.

A woman voter in Khumani chowk on Monday. Photo: Ubaid Mukhtar.

In contrast, six more assembly segments were added to the Jammu region, the stronghold of the BJP, taking its tally in the J&K assembly from 37 to 43.

According to political analysts, Lone will bank on support from the Kupwara and Handwara assembly segments and parts of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, where the former separatist-turned-mainstream leader has struck a deal with the Altaf Bukhari-led J&K Apni Party, which has not fielded any candidate from Baramulla.

“The traditional parties have failed to raise the issue of Kashmiris at the national level. It is time for a new voice to represent us in parliament, which is why I have voted for Sajad Lone,” said Abdul Rashid, a voter in Handwara, from where the PC president was elected in  the 2014 assembly polls.

The north Kashmir region is the second constituency that went to polls in the Kashmir valley after Srinagar, which recorded a voter turnout of about 38%.

The election for Baramulla will be followed by the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency in south Kashmir on May 25, where former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is pitted against NC leader Mian Altaf Larvi and the J&K Apni Party’s Zaffar Manhas.

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter