With dismal record, has three phase polling in Jammu and Kashmir failed?
Srinagar, May 08: At a time when the national security surrounding the Pulwama terror attack has taken the centre stage, the very narrative has failed to draw voters to the booths in the valley.
Jammu and Kashmir has recorded an overall voter turnout of 44.51 per cent, which is 5 per cent down from the 49.52 per cent recorded in the 2014 election.
The overall voting percentage in Anantnag, which voted in three phases, stood at 8.76 per cent.
This is the second-lowest turnout for any Lok Sabha constituency in the state since the eruption of militancy, staying marginally above the 7.2 per cent registered in the bypoll to the Srinagar parliamentary seat in 2017.
The Pulwama threat
Pulwama district, where a suicide bomber drove into a Central Reserve Police Force convoy, killing 40 personnel, on February 14, is located in this Lok Sabha constituency.
The decision to conduct the election in three phases was taken on the basis of the feedback by the security forces. Security officials explained the difficulty in conducting the elections in Anantnag. The districts of Shopian and Pulwama are swarming with terrorists. The recent suicide strike at Pulwama was also cited as one of the reasons.
The four districts of South Kashmir - Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian - fall within Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency. These four districts are the centre of the local militancy that has taken root in the Valley over the last few years, and the site of pitched battles between security forces and militant groups.
Despite a multi-phased polling schedule, a low turnout remained a concern as it indicates a sense of disenchantment with the electoral process among people.
The individual turnout was the worst in Anantnag, where 8.79 per cent of voters came out to exercise their franchise, followed by Srinagar at 14 per cent. At 34 per cent, Baramulla saw a relatively better turnout.
Burhan Wani effect
The Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after Mehbooba Mufti vacated it in June 2016 to contest Assembly elections in order to become chief minister.
Weeks later, popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces, plunging the Valley into a chain of mass protests, civilian deaths and gunfights. As anger against the government grew, few leaders who took part in electoral politics were able to enter these districts. Some were targeted by militants while many announced their decision to resign from political parties.
Nobody from the village of Burhan Wani, the poster boy of terror group Hizbul Mujahideen, voted on Monday, while just 15 from the native place of Pulwama suicide bomber, who nearly brought India and Pakistan to a war, cast the ballots. Also, zero polling was witnessed from the villages of other top militant commanders in south Kashmir.
To top it, 2018 turned out to be one of the bloodiest years in a decade in Kashmir, at least 413 people were killed due to violence since January of this year. More than half of those who died are militants, as per data available with security agencies.
Anantnag has a dismal voting history
The Valley, embroiled in violence for over three decades, has historically seen low voter turnouts. Over the last five general elections from 1998 to 2014, the turnout in Anantnag has remained below 30 per cent. In 1999 and 2004, it was below 15 per cent.
In the 2009 polls, this constituency had witnessed a polling percentage of 29. After Mehbooba vacated the seat, the Election Commission of India had announced that by-polls would be held on April 12, 2017. However violent protests that led to the death of seven civilians had led to the polls being postponed. The polls were deferred to May 2017, but owing to the deteriorating situation, the polls later deferred indefinitely.
With dismal polling percentage recorded in Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency the polling for which was held in three phases, the three major contenders NC, PDP and Congress will be banking upon the selected pockets for their winning prospects.