From 43% in 2002 to 61% in 2008, poll turnout surges in JK

SRINAGAR: The people’s participation in the Assembly elections in the state has significantly increased since 2002, lending relevance to the narratives of boycott or voting that are, yet again, beginning to occupy the political discourse ahead of the elections.
The statistics—for entire state including the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh—of the last two Assembly elections, held in 2002 and 2008, reflect that the electorate’s participation in voting swelled from 43.70 percent in 2002 to 61.41 percent in 2008.
As per the statistics, maintained by the Election Commission of India (ECI), 60, 78, 570 people were registered as voters in 2002, of which 26, 56, 627 cast their vote. And in 2008, 39, 68, 669 out of 64, 61, 757 registered voters had voted, the data shows.
Noticeably, the turnout in the last Assembly election has been even higher than the one held in the thick of armed insurgency in 1996. That year, as per the data, only 53.90 percent of the registered voters had voted. And this despite the government forces’ coercion on the people to ignore the pro-freedom camp’s call for poll boycott.
As the Assembly election 2014 is drawing near, the statistics make an interesting read given that the credibility of elections in Jammu and Kashmir is always contested.
In every election, the pro-India political parties do their best to convince people to exercise franchise, while the pro-freedom leaders use their limited liberty to ensure boycott of the process. And amidst the contesting narratives about the relevance of elections in the conflict-hit state, the final turnout is taken as expression of the people’s stance.
In the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year, the call for boycott from the pro-freedom camp showed impact, as majority of the electorate, especially youth, were reported to have ignored the election process.
The pro-India parties, mindful of the response to Parliamentary elections, have already started to voice opinions against the likely boycott call of the Assembly polls. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, for instance, has been heard repeating that “boycott of the polls will help the parties like BJP, not separatists”.
The pro-freedom parties, however, do not read much into the increased-turnout figures.
“First of all, the figures maintained by the government are not credible because the data is always manipulated to mislead the international community. And secondly, the emergence of more regional parties has made elections as a fight between parties rather than the contest between azadi and occupation,” spokesman of Syed Ali Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference (G) Ayaz Akbar told Kashmir Reader.
“If we are allowed to campaign for boycott, the turnout will be less than five percent,” he challenged.
The pro-India parties on the other hand see increased turnout in the previous Assembly elections as indication of decrease in violence and resumption of normalcy.
“There has been a significant decrease in violence in the recent past and the situation has been becoming normal, allowing people to come out and vote,” Junaid Mattoo, spokesman of the state’s oldest party, the National Conference, said.
“That said, we don’t say that the political issue has been settled. There is need to dissociate elections from the political turmoil, and we are trying to convince people about that,” he added.