Baramulla LS seat: Kashmiri Pandits vote for dedicated township in valley

Jammu : The migrant Kashmiri Pandits turned out in large numbers to vote in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency despite the heat wave, expressing strong support for the creation of dedicated townships for their return and rehabilitation, as well as the restoration of temples in the valley.

Over 21.30 per cent of the 17.37 lakh electorate cast their votes within the first four hours of polling. Many voters emphasised their enduring connection to Kashmir and their desire to return.

“It is my 34th year living as an unwanted citizen of India. We have voted before too. But this time, we cast our votes with a clear demand for a roadmap that includes setting up townships and restoring temples,” said Vikas Raina, who voted at the Udhywalla polling station.

Raina, whose father Ashok Kumar Raina (principal of a college) was killed by the Hizbul-Mujahideen terrorists, stressed that this election is a test for all political parties, especially the government, to fulfil their demand for securing townships in the valley.

“This time, it is a test for all the national and regional political parties, particularly the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi whether they will fulfil our one and only demand to create a township in the valley and facilitate our return to our roots with security and dignity,” said Raina, who migrated to Jammu from his roots in Sopore town of North Kashmir.

He mentioned PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s assurance to the displaced community during her outreach programme in Jammu on Sunday, noting that she strongly advocated for granting land to community members for building houses in the valley and for the restoration of temples.

Mufti said Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, who had announced five marlas of land to the homeless, should give priority to the migrant Kashmiri Pandits so that they build their homes in the valley.

She supports the construction of residential quarters inside temple complexes across the valley so that the Kashmiri Pandits come to visit the places and spend some time there, which will boost their confidence.

Jagriti Bhat, formerly of Gushi village in Kupwara district also raised her demand on similar lines and said, “We want our homeland in the valley. A separate township where we feel safe and sense of security is essential. I don’t think anyone has a problem with this long pending demand of the community”.

Badri Nath, 72, who cast his vote at the Chinore polling station, also advocated for a safe and secure return to Kashmir amid bringing permanent peace in the valley.

“I have voted to ensure our return to Kashmir before I die. We need a separate place, where we live all together with a sense of security. For that, there should be restoration of complete peace in the valley,” he said.

Nath further said every time during elections, they voted with hope for the fulfilment of their demands.

“It is last test for all these parties from my side,” he said, highlighting the need for restored peace in the valley.

Sarita, who travelled from Bengaluru to vote for the first time for Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency at a polling booth in Udhampur, expressed the hope for permanent peace that would enable her family to return.

“There are good security arrangements. My vote is for peace and the possibility to relive in Kashmir,” she said.

Anita, who voted with her family at the Muthi polling booth, reflected on the long exile of the Kashmiri Pandits.

“We have lived like refugees for 34 years. This vote is for our rehabilitation in Kashmir. We need a township for us in the valley to relive there. How can we go back? We don’t have a home there,” she said.

Jammu and Kashmir BJP vice president Girdari Lal Raina, who voted at Chinore, anticipated a high turnout.

“People are very excited. And I expect the turnout to exceed 60 per cent,” he said.

Polling began at 7 am on 2,103 stations across the constituency. Relief Commissioner Arvind Karwani confirmed that polling was proceeding peacefully and enthusiastically.

“Over 20,000 Kashmiri migrant voters across the country are eligible to vote in Baramulla,” he said.

Twenty-eight polling stations have been set up for migrants, including 21 in Jammu, four in Delhi and one in Udhampur, along with three auxiliary stations. This election is the first major political event since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and features 21 candidates, including former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Abdullah faces significant competition from Sajad Lone, leader of the People’s Conference and a former separatist-turned-politician. Fourteen independent candidates, including two women, are also contesting from the traditionally high-turnout Baramulla constituency.