Detailed Read: In a highly securitised environment, sporadic violence & strikes, low turnout polling for Parliament ends in Kashmir

Srinagar: Amid sporadic incidents of violence, the polling for the Anantnag parliamentary polls ended on Monday with the volatile Shopian and Pulwama districts recording a dismal turnout of over 2 percent taking the aggregate turnout to around 20 percent in Kashmir.

The Election Commission of India conducted the polls for the Anantnag parliamentary constituency in three phases due to the volatile situation in south Kashmir.

In first two phases the polls were held for Anantnag and Kulgam district. The two districts recorded a voter turnout of 13.61 and 10.3 percent respectively.

However, the turnout in Shopian did not cross the double digits despite unprecedented security arrangements and stood at a little over 2 percent.

In the run up to the elections for the twin districts, the government forces carried out massive raids and detained over 300 youth during pre-dawn raids.

Additional deployment of 300 security companies, comprising 35000 security personnel was made in the districts for the “smooth conduct” of elections.

In a first, the polling staff was ferried in choppers to some polling stations of Shopian on Sunday.

“Most of the polling staff deputed at the 24 stations in Wachi assembly segment was airlifted to their destinations, sources said, adding that 39 polling staffers were airlifted to locations from the district police lines in a chopper.”

On Monday, the voters mostly preferred to stay indoors. At many places forces had to manage the stone pelting youths to keep them away from polling stations.

Majority of the polling booths till noon in Shopian district either witnessed no turnout or a very dismal turnout of voters.

In Harmain area of the district five polling booths were set up in Higher Secondary School. The polling centre catered to voters as far away as 5 km.

Out of the registered 3070 voters no voter had turned out to cast his vote. In the nearby Choland village out of 1308 registered voters just a single voter had cast his vote till noon. The village’s Middle School housed four polling centres. The village wore a completely deserted look.

Outside the school, Bilal Turray, in his twenties, said that he has never voted in the past nor does he have any plans to vote in future.

“What have elected governments or parliamentarians given Kashmir so far. Just blood,” he said.

Turray said that since the day he was eligible to vote, he has heard politicians make hefty promises and never have these promised been fulfilled. “All the politicians have promised that they will end the bloodshed in Kashmir and resolve Kashmir,” he said, “Their promises have always fallen flat.”

“Leave aside resolving Kashmir, they have not even made attempts to stop the bloodshed,” he said. Turray was accompanied by his cousin who interrupted him and said: “Mehbooba, for example talked very high about his intentions viz-a-viz Kashmir in last elections, but when she was voted to power, she proved much brutal than the previous regimes,” he said.

Ahead of the parliamentary polls in the state, the forces made widespread arrests, banned largest socio-politico-religious party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the pro-independence party Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Despite that the voter turnout in the restive Kashmir region has been dismal, overall.

In aggregate the three phases of parliamentary polls in Kashmir division witnessed aaround 20 percent of voter turnout.

The turnout in the Valley has seen a dip since the first phase, when Baramulla in northern Kashmir witnessed around 34% polling, followed by Srinagar in central Kashmir recording around 14% while the first leg and second of the election in Anantnag district in southern Kashmir witnessed 13.63% and 10.3% polling.

The polling in the state began on April 11 in north Kashmir’s Baramulla parliamentary constituency. In the three phases of polling, Baramulla constituency recorded the highest voter turnout of over 34 percent. The polling day witnessed killing of a Class 7 student and injuries to many others when the enraged youths pelted stones on forces who were retreating from polling duties.

The Baramulla Parliament polls seat recorded zero turnouts in 17 polling booths while the Sopore assembly segment witnessed 3 percent voter turnout.

On April 18, the high profile Srinagar parliamentary constituency recorded only 14.1 percent turnout in the second phase of the Lok Sabha election. 90 of the polling stations in the Srinagar parliamentary seat saw zero turnout, while Eidgah assembly segment witnessed a low turnout of 3.4 percent. Although the voting for Anantnag district was peaceful, but the voters did not turnout to vote.

The lowest turnout of around 3 per cent was witnessed in the home constituency of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and PDP candidate for the constituency Mehbooba Mufti in Bijbehara. The second leg of the Anantnag parliamentary polls, in Kulgam recorded a turnout of over 10 parent amid sporadic incidents of violence. At least 8 youths were injured during clashes with government forces on the polling day.

Meanwhile, serpentine lines of voters waited for their turn to vote in Chitragam and Shadab Karewa areas of Shopian on Monday.

In Shadab Karewa, more than 300 votes were polled out of over 2300 registered votes till 8:30 am.

Giyasuddin, in his mid seventies voted for PDP. A former teacher, he said that he has been voting for the party since its inception. “I would earlier vote for the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, however, the party always disappointed the people of the area.” He said that Mufti (sb) proved a better choice.

Most of the voters in Chitragam said that they voted for change. “The PDP government wrecked all kinds of havoc on people,” a group of people said. “We wanted a change and voted for the National Conference.” The voters said that the PDP ensured that the people are blinded with pellets, killed with bullets, and made to suffer through mass arrests. “We voted for Masoodi sb who we are sure will end all our miseries.”

The twin districts of Pulwama and Shopian are spread over six Assembly segments — Tral, Pampore, Pulwama, Rajpora, Wachi and Shopian, and have a combined population of around 8.5 lakh.

The Pampore assembly segment, also the hometown of National Conference parliamentary candidate, Justice Hasnain Masoodi witnessed the highest turnout on the day. out of registered 82164 votes 4323 voters came out to exercise their franchise. The polling percentage in the constituency settled at 5.26%.

Days ahead of the polling, Hizbul Mujahideen posters appeared in the districts asking people to remain away from the polls.

On 29 April 2019 a designated polling station, government higher secondary school Keegam in Shopian was torched by unknown persons during the night.

Another government middle school was reduced to rubble after being set on fire in the adjoining area.

Officials said that the twin districts have been the most affected after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani in 2016. The organisation draws most of its cadre from the two districts.

Following the launch of Operation All-out by the army in 2017, eight new security forces’ camps were established in Shopian district alone. In an unprecedented move, a CASO was launched in seventeen villages late last year.

By the end of the day at least four youths were injured during clashes with the security forces in Shopian district. The clashes erupted in Batmurran village of the district when the youths pelted stones on the security forces who were retreating from the polling duties.

Despite the unprecedented security arrangements, the militants attacked at least two polling stations with bombs in Pulwama district.

Sources said that the militants attacked a polling booth stationed inside Government Higher secondary school Chatpora. The device exploded outside the wall of the school. Another attack was witnessed on a polling booth in Tikan village in the district. However the device didn’t explode.

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