The Young And The Elderly: First Time Voters In Kashmir Elections

At Palhalan, once known for stone-throwing, voting proceeded briskly throughout the day

Naseer Ganai
polling booth in Palhalan Photo: Naseer Ganai

At the polling booth inside the Government Degree College in Sopore, North Kashmir, an elderly man with a long beard and a stick in his hand arrived to cast his vote. After voting, he said that this was the first time he had participated in an election since 1987. A large number of voters were first-time voters in the area.

He recalled an incident from the 1982 elections when he served as a presiding officer. An elderly man was carried to the polling station on his son's shoulders. Despite his son supporting a different party, the old man insisted on voting for another. "I see the same enthusiasm in these polls today," he said. He said a large number of people were voting according to their own volition. "This time, I don't see anyone having any fear or feeling that there is a stigma associated with voting," he added. "There is complete peace. There is no noise. No one is telling anyone how to vote."

A 38-year-old man named Basit said people now feel voting is necessary. "You know Sopore. We used to boycott elections. On polling day, we'd stay home and treat it as a holiday. But now I realise those who voted were the wiser ones. No one told me to vote today; I came on my own," he added. Basit said that polling booths in Sopore previously saw only a handful of voters. "Now, I expect over 40 per cent turnout for the parliamentary elections. In the Assembly elections, there will be 80 per cent turnout."

"I am not ashamed of voting. I have no guilt today. I have regret why I was not voting previously,” he said.

Women, after voting, chatted with each other on the college lawn. An elderly woman said she voted for the National Conference. "My father used to vote for them long ago, and I did too," she said. A young woman next to her added, "I voted for Engineer Rashid's party. She's my mother-in-law who voted for the National Conference," she said laughing.

Traditionally, Sopore, the hometown of the late separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, was seen as a hub of separatism. In the early 1990s, Sopore was a stronghold for various militant groups. However, things have drastically changed now. Many voters prefer not to dwell on the past, instead expressing hope that their elected MP will address grievances ranging from rising unemployment to land security in the parliament.

At Palhalan, once known for stone-throwing, voting proceeded briskly throughout the day. Several youngsters were sitting outside the Government Boys Higher Secondary School, which was a polling booth, said that people came out in large numbers early in the morning to cast their votes. At the polling booth, people would arrive on their own and party polling agents were quietly sitting on one side. A young man who identified himself as a student commented on the voting: “Vote chi piwana kanen hind pateh (Voting is happening like stone-throwing),” he said, prompting laughter from those around.

The Election Commission said that voters turned out in large numbers to cast their votes. According to the EC 7.03 per cent of votes had been polled in Baramulla PC by 9 am. The polling began at 7 am in all 2103 polling stations across the constituency. By 1 pm 35.08 per cent voting was recorded in all its polling stations. By 3 pm it was 45.22 per cent voting. 

In 2019, Baramulla recorded 34.57 per cent voter turnout. The voter turnout in 2014 for the seat was 39.13 per cent while it stood at 41.8 per cent in 2009. Sopore and Baramulla towns would record low turnout but this time mood seem changed in these two towns. By 3 p.m. Sopore recorded 31.11 per cent voting, Baramulla town 39.44 per cent. 

National Conference candidate from the constituency Omar Abdullah while travelling in the constituency insisted people vote. Talking to media persons, he said, it was good to see Jamaat-e-Islami casting their vote. He said he was hopeful that the ban be lifted from the Jamaat and incoming Assembly elections, the party would have its candidates. 

People's Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone, who is fighting from the constituency after casting his vote said that he will end police verification, and FIR culture if voted to power. Talking to reporters after casting his vote in north Kashmir’s Handwara, Lone said if voted to power, "I promise to end the FIR and police verification culture which is affecting our youth badly”. Independent candidate Engineer Rashid’s 23-year-old son Abrar Rashid also cast his vote in the polls. 

At Palhalan, a middle-aged man recalled that during the last parliamentary elections, stones were raining down near polling booths. "The atmosphere was tense," he said. Today, elderly men were sitting outside the polling booth, engrossed in political discussions.

Naseer Ganai in Sopore