The first two-phases of the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir have recorded a poor turnout of Kashmiri migrant voters. The lowest turnout was recorded in the first phase with an abysmal voting percentage of 0.75%.
According to official sources, in the first phase of the eight-phased poll, a total of 32 Kashmiri migrant votes were recorded in Jammu out of 4,800 registered voters along with four votes in Udhampur district.
Meanwhile, in the second phase, 175 migrant votes were recorded in Jammu out of 8,103 voters and 21 from Udhampur. Special polling booths were set up for migrants at Gandhi Nagar college in Jammu and at a government school in Udhampur.
The State Election Commissioner (SEC) only took the decision to set up the special polling booths for migrant voters in Jammu and Udhampur two days before the commencement of the DDC polls, which led to confusion among the voters. Many migrant voters were under the impression that they were to cast vote through postal ballots. It is also seen as one of the reasons behind low voting percentage.
Speaking to NewsClick, Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) Migrants, Anushman Singh said, “This is the lowest percentage of voting by the migrants ever recorded. It should be noted these Kashmiri migrants include Muslim, Sikh and Pandits. However, the number of Kashmiri Pandit migrant voters is greater. In the first phase, 32 votes were recorded in 15 constituencies in Kashmir valley.”
When asked about the reason behind low turnout of migrant voters, Singh said that people were not interested in voting. Another official, who wished to stay anonymous, said that migrants complained that political parties did not approach them.
“There is a lot of disappointment among migrant voters as they feel that they have been abandoned because no political party approached them for votes. Nobody asked what their problems were. So, this is one the reasons why they showed no interest towards voting,” the official said.
It is pertinent to mention that Kashmiri migrants had left the valley 32 years ago during insurgency and still their votes are recorded for the constituencies in Kashmir, but not in Jammu. “Technically, we still belong to Kashmir but in terms of development, Kashmiri migrants would want development in the areas they are presently living in. They don’t even know who is contesting in Kashmir,” said Sushil Pandita, a social activist.
Pandita is supposed to cast his vote in the third phase, which will be held on December 4. He said that he will vote ‘None of The Above’ (NOTA). “My vote will be for NOTA because I have a few questions to ask. Why has voting suddenly reduced after the abrogation of Article 370? Why have political parties not approached Kashmiri Pandits for votes? Where are those who said that abrogation (of Article 370) will result in development for Kashmiri Pandits?” he asked, adding, “We got nothing for all the politicisation done in our name.”
Migrants living in the Jagti camp, which is home to 5,000 families, complained about the distance of the polling booth, which was set up 20 kilometres away in Jammu. Out of the 32 votes recorded in the first phase, 11 votes were recorded in the Rafiabad seat, 15 votes in Pahalgam, and three in DH Pora in Kulgam district and three in Khan Sahab in Kashmir.
“Do you think people will travel 20 kms to vote when they have no idea about the nominees in the areas they are voting for? Did the government really want us to vote or our purpose has been served after the abrogation of Article 370?” asked another local from Jagti.
This is the first major electoral exercise being held in the region since the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of J&K into two union territories. The polling is being held in eight phases and is scheduled to be concluded on December 19.