Srinagar parliamentary constituency today recorded the lowest ever poll participation with stone throwing protests erupting again at large scale after a thaw of five months and deaths of eight civilian protesters shadowed the feeble voting.
The statistics were self-explanatory: 7.14 percent voter turnout and the eight civilian killings.
The Chief Electoral Officer, Shantmanu in his evening briefing described low percentage as “not a good day for us.”
Even in 1996, when the elections were held in the restive state after years of the governor’s and the presidential rule, the poll percentage in Srinagar was 41 percent. That year the Army and other security agencies were accused of coercing people to vote even though the Army would take credit of providing an atmosphere for the successful polls.
With the poll percentage not even reaching to the double digits on Sunday in spite of snapping internet and elaborate security arrangements, shows the situation in Kashmir region has completely overturned after the successful parliamentary and the Assembly polls. Kashmir region witnessed 29.55 per cent turnout in 2009 parliamentary polls even after the unrest of 2008 in which over 60 civilian protesters were killed.
“From 26% in 2014 to 6.5% in 2017 who should we blame for the mess Kashmir is in?”, National Conference working president, Omar Abdullah, summed up the situation in a tweet. “Have contested 6 elections over 20 years & have never seen this level of violence in elections in Kashmir”, Abdullah said.
The government had placed security cover across Srinagar constituency spread over three districts as main contest was between National Conference president, Dr. Farooq Abdullah and the Peoples Democratic Party’s Nazir Ahmad Khan.
As the day started no queues were seen outside the polling booths in central Kashmir Budgam and other areas of the parliamentary constituency. Previously, Budgam used to witness high polling percentage. Defying the practice, the roads in the area were deserted with only government forces seen patrolling.
With failure of pro-India political parties to mobilize people to vote in spite of their separatist slogans and speeches in their electoral campaign, illustrates shrinking space for pro-India in the region.
On Sunday morning at a polling station at the Budgam main town, there was no queue in spite the booth being few steps away from the local National Conference MLA's residence.
In Bogur, Kremsher, Airgam and other areas of Budgam district only government forces were seen in the deserted roads.
“In previous elections there used to be festivities here on election-day. But now no one is in mood to cast vote”, said an elderly at Bogur, who identified himself as Ghulam Nabi. “Why should we vote after the civilian killings of 2016”, he said and others nodded in the agreement.
In previous elections, Char-e-Sharief area of Budgam, 52993 votes were recorded. Today only 40208 votes were cast in whole Budgam showing mood of people in the region.
Incidentally, the resignation of senior PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra from Srinagar seat on September last year in protest against the civilian killings necessitated the by-polls.
In 2016, over 80 persons were killed and nearly 15000 wounded as the forces fired bullets and pellets on protesters, who hit roads following the killing of 21-year-old militant commander Burhan Muzaffer Wani on July 8.
According to the CEO, over 250 incidents of violence including the stone throwing attacks on the polling stations and the electronic voting machines (EVMs) took place today.
In remote Hardu Dulwan Char-e-Sharief in Budgam, bordering Pulwama, eyewitnesses said government forces deployed in the area opened fire on stone throwing protesters wounding at least four protesters. Two of them later succumbed to injuries. The killed were identified as 15- year old Faizan Dar and Jan Mohammad. The other five civilians killed in forces action are from Beerwa, Daulatpora Chadoora, Chak Kawoosa and Sogam Chadoora, all in Budgam district.
The separatists have called for two day Kashmir shutdown against the fresh killings. Chairman of the moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is under house arrest, said the only way to express collective grief at killings of children and share the sorrow with the bereaved families is to observe shutdown. The separatists have called for two days strike against the killing.
As Anantnag constituency is going for the polls on April 12, today's low polling and violence is likely to mar poll percentage in the South Kashmir constituency, which has seen prolonged protests since July last year. Shantmanu said that South Kashmir will be big challenge.
Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti issued a statement this evening expressing “deep anguish over the loss of lives during today's polling in Srinagar Parliamentary constituency.”
“I am distressed to know that many of those killed were young boys who were yet to understand the intricacies of the issues”, Mehbooba said. “I have reiterated it time and again that peaceful means and not violence are the only way ahead for getting the State out of the present difficulties”, she said.