LS polls: Will Srinagar uphold its election boycott tradition?

SRINAGAR: Srinagar parliamentary constituency has consistently displayed a low level of interest in the ballot system in last two decades of conflict in the state.
The constituency spanning over three central Kashmir districts of Srinagar, Budgam, and Ganderbal went to polls thrice in past 20 years. And all three times, people’s participation in election process has been significantly low.
The voter turnout, which is generally taken as an obvious indicator of people’s interest in the electoral process, was about 41 per cent in 1996 elections which were held amidst high-intensity militancy and coercion on voters by government forces. As per the data of Election Commission of India (ECI), around 786, 301 people were registered to vote in the ’96 election, but only 321, 928 came out to cast their vote.
The turnout figure, however, dropped sharply to mere 19 per cent in 2004 elections when only 195, 678 of 105, 3734 registered voters participated in the polls. And the figure rose only marginally to about 26 per cent in 2009—out of 110, 6729 votes, only 282, 791 were polled.
Elections in Kashmir have always been a tricky business, with debate over dominance of pro-election or pro-boycott sentiment among the Valley populace. Usually, pro-India political parties contest the polls while the pro-freedom camp often describes the electoral process as a “non-issue”.
Ahead of every election, whether parliamentary or for state assembly, the pro-freedom camp calls for a boycott, urging people not to vote. And the turnout figures only suggest that the pro-freedom camp’s efforts for boycott have been generating response.
“Boycott has been a common feature of elections in Kashmir ever since the start of insurgency. But India has been wrongly projecting elections as people’s faith in its democracy,” Sahil Rafiq, 27, of Nowhatta in old Srinagar said in a casual conversation with Kashmir Reader.
“I received my Election Card and voter slip only two days ago, but even the official who dropped it at my home knows that I won’t vote. It has been like this in Srinagar, always,” he added.
The state is in the middle of another parliamentary election. Elections in Jammu regions concluded recently, but Srinagar, Baramulla and Ladakh constituencies in Kashmir are yet to undergo polling.
The pattern to polls, however, remains unchanged in the Valley—the pro-India politicians are competing for berths in the Lok Sabha while as pro-freedom camp has been campaigning for boycott. And the boycott call has yet again showed impact in the Anantnag constituency that went to polls on Thursday—72 per cent of the electorate didn’t cast their vote even as anti-India protests continued throughout the day in many districts of the constituency on the poll day.
Judging from the people’s response, Srinagar may be keen to follow the example set by Anantnag.
“It is our turn now to respect the blood of martyrs,” Imaad, a young registered voter, also from old city, said.
Srinagar parliamentary constituency has been a stronghold of National Conference (NC)—the party president Farooq Abdullah was elected Member of Parliament from the constituency consecutively in past two elections.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is the major competitor to NC-Congress coalition in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, has been repeatedly saying that poll boycott helps NC.
Srinagar constituency will go to polls on Wednesday. And more than the contest between pro-India politicians, it may once again prove to be the battle of sentiments, with Anantnag having amply demonstrated that elections are a different issue all together in the Valley.