PulwamaAt the gates of polling centres in this South Kashmir district, infamous for terrorism and stone-pelting, enthusiastic voters queued up on Monday to exercise their franchise with a sense of ease in the absence of a separatist-sponsored boycott call and fear of violence.

"We have had enough. We want change. Vote is our biggest weapon. It is a powerful weapon which will help us find solutions to our problems. Vote is our right," Shakeel Ahmad Para, a voter at a polling booth here, said.

Polling in Jammu and Kashmir's Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is being held in the fourth round of the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections.

This is the first major election in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The article was revoked in 2019, leading to the bifurcation of the state into Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

At another polling station in Tahab, an elderly person who did not wish to be named, said he was voting for the first time in his life.

"This is for the first time I am voting. Previously, we stayed away from the exercise as we had no benefit. This time, we have our own candidate," he said referring to PDP's Srinagar candidate Waheed Para.

The enthusiasm to vote for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader was visible as men and women -- young and old alike -- came in droves to vote at their designated polling stations.

Para is pitted against National Conference's influential Shia leader Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi and Apni Party's Ashraf Mir.

There are a total of 24 candidates in the fray for the constituency, which was redrawn after the delimitation exercise was undertaken recently.

At the polling station in Govt Girls Model Higher Secondary School Naira, located in Para's neighbourhood, voters lined up early in the morning, most foregoing breakfast, to cast their ballots.

Abdul Razak, who was among the first few voters at the polling booth, said they want to send an honest voice to Parliament.

"We want to elect a young and an intelligent, honest person who understands the problems of the local people and will work for their betterment, especially, of the youth," he said.

Razak said it is for the first time that the voters here have got an opportunity to send a young voice to Parliament.

"We understand his (Waheed Para) ideology and vision. I appeal to the people to vote. If we do not vote today, it is our loss. We haven't been able to raise our voice for a long time. It's an opportunity to send someone as our voice to Parliament," he said.

For the past many years, the elections in this district have been marred by terrorism-related violence, instances of stone pelting and boycott calls by separatist groups. Notably, the heads of several terrorism groups, including Burhan Wani, Reyaz Naikoo, and Zakir Musa, also belonged to this district.

This time around there has been no election boycott call in the area as yet and voters say they are also seeing an improvement in the security situation.

This, combined with Para's candidacy, is expected to result in a higher voter turnout in the Lok Sabha election.

Another first-time voter, Ghulam Mohiddin Ganie, said that boycott serves no purpose now.

"We used to boycott (elections). But now, the situation is such that we are facing onslaught on many fronts and so the boycott and stone pelting will not work. Our sufferings will ease only when we elect our representative and he raises our issues in Parliament," Ganie said.

Abdul Aziz Shah, while standing in a queue at a polling booth, said the voters here were feeling a sense of ease this election.

"We have witnessed unfavourable situation for many years. There used to be fear among the voters, but the situation has improved now and there is no fear. We are feeling at ease," he said.

Most of the people in the queue were first-time voters and were excited to exercise their right to franchise.

Rumi Jan, a 22-year-old woman, said she was voting for the redressal of the issues of the people.

"We want a local candidate who is familiar to us and who is young and educated," Jan said.

Another first-time woman voter, Roohi, said that boycott was a thing of the past and now there is no fear among people as they line up at polling booths.

In the first two hours of voting, the two polling booths at Naira and Tahab recorded 132 and 128 votes, respectively. While females (71) outnumbered men (61) at Naira, 77 men and 51 women cast their votes at Tahab polling booth.

However, the PDP candidate, who cast his vote at Naria, claimed that slow voting was taking place "deliberately".

"There is an effort to subvert the election process. Attempts are being made to discourage voters and disturb them on many pretexts. There are some officials within the system who are doing that," Para said here.

He said the queues of the voters should have been taken as an encouraging sign "but, unfortunately, some officials are trying to subvert whole election process".

Para, however, added that he is confident that this elections would record a high voter turnout for the first time.

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