In the idyllic Heff village, 66 km south of Srinagar, the air was thick with anticipation, excitement and cotton-covered pollens from Russian poplars on Saturday afternoon. Voters thronged a government high school housing two polling stations. By 2 pm, 232 people had exercised their franchise for the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat, which went to polls in the sixth phase.

In Heff and Arwani, two militant-infested villages that businessline covered during day-long polling, the voter enthusiasm was palpable.

In Heff, families have buried 12 young men and boys in a small graveyard right at the gateway to the hamlet. They had picked up arms and were killed by security forces over the last few years.

The village is deeply influenced by the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religio-political organisation founded by Abdul Ala Maududi in 1941. Its ideology aims to establish an Islamic state, governed by the Koranic law, while rejecting structures rooted in democracy and secularism.

Jammat diktat

Since 1989, the Jamaat, which was proscribed in 2019, has been boycotting the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. The village strictly followed the Jamaat stance. But the abrogation of the special constitutional position of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019 changed the entire political dynamics of the region.

“The situation has improved a lot. We are citizens of India and want to live in peace,” says Abdul Rashid Mohand, chairman of the local Awqaaf Committee.

The Anantnag Lok Sabha seat underwent reconfiguration due to delimitation, merging Poonch and Rajouri districts in Jammu with Kashmir division’s Shopian and Anantnag districts. In the last Lok Sabha polls, the constituency had recorded an abysmal voting percentage of 8.76 per cent with many of the polling stations witnessing zero voting.

But in rural parts of the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seats where businessline spoke to a number of voters, there is a lot of enthusiasm for elections now. The proscribed Jamaat members recently not only cast their ballots, but also expressed their desire to contest elections, if the government lifts the ban on them.

This shift in Jamaat’s long-standing position encouraged people in their strongholds to show up at polling stations and cast their ballots.

In Arwani village, some 5 km from former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s home town Bijbehara, more than 460 people had cast their votes by 1 pm. The village has around 3,247 votes.

A poll official stationed at a polling station in the village told businessline that voting picked up as the day progressed. During the previous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, residents had steered clear of polling booths.

In this village, some 100 men have died in fighting with security forces in the last three decades. The village has been a stronghold of Jamaat.

The contenders

In this constituency, 20 candidates are in the fray including Mehbooba Mufti, NC leader Main Altaf Larvi and Apni Party leader Zaffar Iqbal Manhas. Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) has fielded Mohammad Saleem Parry.

Although the BJP did not join the poll fray, it covertly supported the Apni Party candidate. The constituency had recorded 51.88 per cent turnout by 5 pm.