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Local Body Polls Conclude in J&K, Abysmal Voter Turnout in Kashmir

Two major parties from the state – People’s Democratic Party and National Conference – had decided to boycott the elections.
J&K civic polls

Image Courtesy: Outlook

The fourth and the final phase of the urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir concluded on Tuesday.

No door-to-door campaigning, candidates’ identities shrouded in secrecy, no sign of electioneering and resentment from the people on the ground marked the urban local body polls in the Kashmir division. Amid tight security, municipal polls – which took place after 13 years – in Jammu division, however, saw an overwhelming participation – especially in the Rajouri and Poonch districts, and in Ladakh.

An election department official told PTI, "The overall voting percentage for the urban local bodies of the state was 35.1 per cent." The voter turnout for the final phase of the elections, held only for two municipal bodies – Srinagar and Ganderbal in the Valley – was 4.2 percent.

A complete shutdown was observed during the entire four phases of the electoral process, following an appeal by the separatists. Security personnel were stationed outside the polling booths to prevent any untoward activity.

As per reports, nearly 5.97 lakh out of 17 lakh voters exercised their franchise. However, many candidates had kept their identities secret, fearing risk to their lives. In many wards, the candidates won unopposed. In the last phase of the polls, candidates in six municipal bodies won unopposed, including Pattan of Baramulla district, Pampore, Pulwama, Khrew area of Pulwama district, Dooru, Veirnag area of Ananatnag district and Shopian of South Kashmir. According to the officials, there were no nominations in the above mentioned areas. Out of 598 wards in Kashmir, 231 candidates were elected unopposed, while there were no candidates in 181 wards.

A few cases of alleged fraudulent voting also came to the light. An eyewitness from Hawal area told Newsclick, "At ward number 54, a few people entered the polling booth with a guy spearheading them. The guy ensured that the voters pressed the right button, and in return, gave them Rs 1500."

Independent candidates seemed unhappy with the security arrangements. An independent candidate, Mehbooba from Kawdara area of Downtown said, "All arrangements and security have been reserved for BJP candidates. There is no security arrangement for Independent candidates. This election was a drama staged by the BJP. They just wanted to make inroads into the political spectrum of Kashmir."

According to the election officials, the first phase of polling for civic bodies on October 8 recorded 65 per cent voter turnout in Jammu division and 62.1 per cent in Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh. The Valley, however saw a meagre 8.2 per cent electorate casting their votes in the first phase, according to PTI. However, in the second phase of the polling held on October 10, Jammu division civic bodies saw voter turnout of 78.6 per cent, but the municipal bodies in Kashmir registered a measly 3.5 per cent turnout.

The third phase saw a notch higher voter turnout in Jammu with 81.4 per cent against abysmal 3.5 per cent in Kashmir. Sporadic incidents of stone-pelting took place at a few places in the Valley. Yesterday, in the fourth and final phase, in the Kawdara area of Downtown, Srinagar, youngsters had gathered outside the polling booth. They reportedly pelted stones at the booth, and raised slogans. After the incident, roads leading to the area were blocked by security forces. A similar incident was reported from Soura area of Srinagar.

However, the threat by the militant outfits and call for shutdown by the separatists also affected the voter turnout in the Kashmir division. "I wanted to vote, but I love my family and militants are keeping an eye on who is going out to vote. It’s better to stay at home, and watch the entire process as a mute spectator," said a man from South Kashmir, on the condition of anonymity. The killing of two NC workers ahead of the first phase of elections also created an atmosphere of fear in the valley which led to the withdrawal of a few nominations. 

"BJP is trying to forcefully legitimise democracy in the Valley, and by launching candidates in every district, they are trying to make inroads into the Kashmir politics," said another local when asked why he didn't go out to vote.

Notably, two major parties from the state – People’s Democratic Party and National Conference – had decided to boycott the elections.

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