A small, winding road strewn with potholes and smeared with dirt leads to the Budgam Girls Higher Secondary polling station from the house of Shamima Begam. In her late sixties, Begam regularly visits this forlorn stretch to commute to the nearby market to buy grocery or vegetables.
On Thursday, as second phase polling began for Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency — comprising Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts, with total 12,95,304 registered voters — the road came to symbolise the decade of abysmal infrastructural development in this district.
Twenty years ago, said Begam, the road was “bad”. And now, it’s “very, very bad.”
The concept of India's, or even Kashmir's, urban development has still not reached Budgam, which is just 27 kilometers from Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar. That’s why Begum said she left early in the morning to vote. But she is not sure about who can deliver.
“I am voting because I am angry,” Shamima told Firstpost. “I am angry because children are getting killed. I am angry because we never had good roads. We are so close to Srinagar but still so far. Even getting an electricity pole in your neighborhood from the government is a big task.”
Budgam, which is part of the Srinagar parliamentary constituency, is home to the influential Shia community. As cult followers, the minority community is known to cast their ballot for their own leaders.
“I am here to cast a vote in favour of Aga Sahib’s son,” said a 28-year-old student, referring to the new entrant to Kashmir politics Irfan Raza Ansari. “He’s from our community, and he will at least change the condition of the roads.”
Despite people ensuring to vote here, even during the thickest years of raging insurgency in Kashmir, a dismal picture on ground is making a farce of electoral promises revolving around 'bijli, pani and sadak' (power, water and road).
During the early 2017 bypoll for Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, eight people were killed in Budgam and clashes erupted all over the area. That is also when Farooq Ahmad Dar, a shawl weaver, was tied to front bumper of a military jeep as it patrolled villages, apparently serving as "human shield". Only 7 percent of voting was recorded then.
The Srinagar bypoll — necessitated after rebel PDP parliamentarian Tariq Hameed Karra left the party — was the first election in Kashmir post the killing of prominent Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whose death on 8 July, 2016 triggered a massive upheaval in Kashmir. Clashes erupted and curfew remained for over four months with phone and internet services snapped. Hundreds were injured in the clashes and protests.
“We see no reason to vote, but when we tell politicians to give us good roads, they ask, ‘Did you vote?’” said Imran Ali, a school teacher. “At least if you vote now, tomorrow you can tell him that we did vote for you and you need to at least give us good roads.”
Despite the regional unionist parties raking the issues of autonomy, self rule and safeguarding the special status of the state during their campaigning, Budgam on Thursday gave away the ground dynamics. A commoner who had turned up to cast their ballot had the local issues revolving around the road in mind.
During polling, the clashes erupted between youth and government forces at Nasrullahpora village in Budgam. The force had to fire pellets and tear smoke shells to quell the stone-pelting youth. In another clash in Hafroo village of Chadoora in Budgam district, protesters pelted stones at security personnel deployed in the area for polling. The forces retaliated by firing bullets and pellets, resulting in injuries to three people.
Kashmir witnessed a complete shutdown on Thursday following the strike call given by separatists. Major parts of the poll-bound constituency wore a deserted look. Shops and commercial establishments remained closed and there was thin movement of traffic on roads in several districts of the Valley.
While the overall voter turnout in Srinagar parliamentary constituency was 14.05 percent, the turnout in Budgam was 18.85 percent, while in Srinagar district it was 7.69 percent, and in Ganderbal it was 12.98 percent. Many polling stations in restive downtown area of Srinagar had recorded zero vote percentage.
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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2019 23:01:40 IST