SRINAGAR: While the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Anantnag parliamentary constituency is three days away, records suggest that more than half of the registered electorate have been staying away from the electoral process in south Kashmir.
As per records maintained by the Election Commission of India (ECI), around 1,17,6223 persons in Anantnag were registered to vote in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. But a mere 27.10 per cent of them (318, 726) exercised their franchise while the majority stayed away from the poll process.
2009, however, was not the isolated instance of low voter turnout in Anantnag. In the elections held in 2004, the turnout in the constituency had been even lesser—only 15.04 per cent registered voters had voted.
In the three Lok Sabha elections held in the state in past 20 years, only 1996 saw the turnout figure go up to what could be described as a presentable figure. In the election held that year amid widespread coercion from army and other government forces, 50.20 per cent of the registered electorate had voted.
The trend clearly reflects that the urge towards voting has been lesser in Anantnag, which has always been a mixed bag of electoral responses. In the last Lok Sabha elections, for instance, many districts participated seemingly wholeheartedly in the polling while stone pelting, protests, and boycott was the highlight in several others.
“Anantnag is like a polarized constituency. Some areas are pro-election and some pro-boycott,” said Mudasir Ahmad, a young government teacher from Anantnag town. “The choices get openly exhibited every time the constituency goes to polls, but overall the voter turnout has been less because majority chooses not to vote.”
The polarisation isn’t limited to the elections alone. Areas like Tral in Pulwama district have been active in militancy while Kulgam has been a strong hold of the CPI (Marxist)’s state head Yusuf Tarigami, and uniquely so. Similarly, parts of Anantnag have been more active in pro-freedom activities compared to areas like Qazigund.
In the parliamentary elections, the constituency hasn’t been supporting a particular party. The Lok Sabha members elected from this constituency in the three elections belonged to three different parties. In 1996, Janta Dal (JD) candidate Mohammad Maqbool was declared winner; the seat went to Mehbooba Mufti of PDP in 2004, and then to Dr Mehboob Beigh of National Conference (NC) in 2009.
Ever since the last Lok Sabha elections, many political activists, and Panchayat members were shot dead in the constituency. In the past weeks, shutdown was observed in various districts in the consistency to oppose elections rallies by pro-India parties, particularly NC.
Given the past record and the mixed response to campaigning so far, Anantnag, which is the first constituency from the Valley going to polls this election, will face a curious test on April 24—the poll day. The way electorate chooses to behave will reveal if the people’s taste has changed or whether shutdowns are just to vote out a particular party.