Jammu/Srinagar: Voters defied a boycott call and inclement weather as half of the total electorate cast its franchise in the first six hours of the first phase of polling in Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday.
Enthusiastic voters queued up at most polling stations in the Valley and the Jammu region. Even a separatist boycott call in the Valley evoked no response as men and women came out in large numbers to vote.
Nearly 50 percent of the voters polled in 15 assembly constituencies in the first phase.
Polling was low key initially because of the winter cold in the morning, especially in the Ladakh region where temperatures were much below the freezing point.
As the day progressed, voting picked up in the Ladakh region. Voters lined up at polling booths in Gurez, Kangan, Ganderbal, and Bandipora constituencies.
In The Jammu region, Doda, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Bhaderwah, Banihal and Ramban also saw voters turn up at booths.
The voters said they were voting for change in the Valley, while those in the Jammu region said they were voting for change and development.
"We have decided to participate in the elections to vote for change," said Nisar, 24, who was voting for the first time.
The young and first-time voters were particularly enthusiastic about casting their vote.
"Yes, I have voted and I have no fear in admitting this. It is time all youth came out to bring change which is only possible through the power of ballot," said Irshad, 25, at Inderkote polling station in Sonawari constituency.
The election commission deputed 225 micro observers, besides webcasting 159 polling stations.
No major untoward incident was reported from anywhere.
"Polling started peacefully at all the 1,787 polling stations spread over seven districts," an official said.
Over a million voters will decide the political fate of 123 candidates in the fray.
Reports from Leh, Kargil, Zanskar and Nubra constituencies of the Ladakh region said both Muslim and Buddhist voters turned up.
Enthusiasm was palpable in Lar town of Ganderbal constituency as both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party candidates belong to this town. A poll official had to ask their supporters to remain calm at a polling booth.
Long queues were also seen in Sumbal town of Sonawari constituency and in Bandipora town of Bandipora constituency.
A Ganderbal polling booth, with 878 registered voters, was set up at a high school because of a poll bycott call. Only 65 votes were cast in the Lok Sabha election, but more than 250 votes were cast in the first hours Tuesday.
In Nubra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar constituencies of Ladakh region, the morning temperature was several notches below the freezing point.
The morning cold also affected the early voter turnout in Doda, Bhaderwah, Kishtwar, Inderwal, Ramban and Banihal constituencies in the Jammu region.
Still, young voters queued up at the Hariganimen polling booth of the Kangan constituency in Ganderbal district. Dressed in traditional Kashmiri attire, most of them probably were first-time voters.
The total number of registered voters at this booth is 642 - 335 males and 307 females - of whom around 50 votes were cast by 8.30 a.m.
Mamina, a 20-year-old student, told IANS: "I will vote for somebody who will work for development of this backward area."
Polling started at 8 a.m. and will end at 4 p.m.
Vote count will take place Dec 23 after the last phase of the five-phase elections end Dec 20.