Srinagar: Now that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has lost the parliamentary by-election for Srinagar seat, questions are being asked whether Tasadduq Mufti’s recommending of postponement of the Anantnag by-election was actually driven by the sense of imminent defeat.
Tasadduq’s presser was conducted the day after the Srinagar constituency went to polls. The election was met with an unprecedented poll boycott and widespread protests that caused the death of eight youth and injuries to more than 150 people. Later on the same day, the Election Commission of India postponed the Anantnag by-election to May 25.
According to the assessment of police intelligence, of the 16 assembly segments of Anantnag parliamentary constituency, only six segments – Pahalgam, Devsar, Dooru, Kokernag, Shangus and DH Pora – would have witnessed a medium to high poll turnout.
In these six assembly segments, the police intelligence had predicted that the Congress and NC alliance would be on a strong footing. It further assessed that low voter turnout would be expected in the lower regions of these segments and high voter turnout in the upper regions of these areas.
“We were predicting up to 15 to 20 percent polling in the overall Anantnag constituency,” a senior police official told Reader. “The tilt was towards the PDP in 10 segments where we predicted low voter turnout. In these segments, the workers and activists of PDP would have come out and given their vote to the ruling party. The PDP had a substantive edge over the NC-Congress alliance overall.”
The Pahalgam assembly segment is currently with the NC, Devsar and Shangus are with the Congress, and Dooru, Kokernag, and DH Pora are with PDP.
The Dooru and Kokernag segments have traditionally voted for the Congress while DH Pora has voted for the NC. The anti-incumbency factor at these places became the reason for the loss to NC and Congress in the last assembly elections. However, the base of voters, workers and activists is still intact for these parties and would have played a crucial role in the parliamentary polls.
A PDP leader based in south Kashmir said, “In DH Pora, the fight between the NC and PDP was 50-50. In Devsar, the PDP had voters but the Congress also had a considerable number of voters. In Dooru, Kokernag and Pahlgam, the tilt was slightly towards the NC-Congress.”
DH Pora was the lone place in south Kashmir where rallies were held and people were asked to vote.
“The thing PDP most relied upon was the ten assembly segments of Pulwama, Shopian, Wachi, Tral, Pampore, Rajpora, Qazigund, Bhijbehara, Hom Shalibug and Anantnag town. Even if the polls were boycotted, the small percentage of voting would have worked in favour of PDP as these areas have most of its workers and activists,” the leader added.
However, soon after the Budgam violence happened, the prospects of even the low turnout in the ten constituencies disappeared, the PDP leader said, putting in danger the prospects of Tasadduq Mufti.
A PDP legislator from south Kashmir said that nobody was ready to find even polling agents for the polls in Anantnag. “The people to whom I gave government contracts and showered favours on did not turn up. How can you expect that the dedicated worker would have turned up to vote?” the legislator said. “It was obvious that it would not have been an easy victory for us.”
A journalist working for a local daily said that Tasadduq Mufti’s call for postponing the polls was driven more by the fear of loss than for the security of people. “The PDP could not find even a polling agent for Homshalibug or Bejbehara,” the journalist said. “The situation was very bad.”
PDP General Secretary Nizamudin Bhat rejected the idea that Tasadduq Mufti called for postponement of polls out of a sense of defeat. “Tasadduq Mufti considers life of Kashmiris more precious than votes. During the Budgam election he saw the violence and recommended to the election commission to cancel or postpone the polls. The commission then deferred the polls,” Bhat said.
When asked why the Congress-NC alliance had not recommended the postponing of elections, Bhat said, “Being in the government we have to consider the safety of people. Tasadduq has time and again said during poll campaigning that life was more precious than votes. We would have called straightway for polls but we did not want loss of life. We want to reach out to people in such a way that the social fabric remains intact. We are not concerned about who will win or lose. Tasadduq did not take an escape route. It will be an insult to his conviction that people must be protected all costs.”
NC General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar said that elections were deferred because the NC-Congress alliance was clearly winning. “The elections were deferred out of the fear of loss,” Sagar said. “We had earlier told both the election commission and the government that the situation was not conducive for holding elections. But the state government went ahead. But after it became clear that people will vote against them, they told the election commission that the election was not feasible in the aftermath of the Budgam violence. We believe elections should be conducted. Let us see who wins.”
Former PDP MP and now Congress leader Tariq Hamid Qarra said that the Srinagar parliamentary constituency had set the trend for the PDP-BJP’s defeat. “The deferring of polls was a decision of the PDP. It was politically motivated,” Qarra said. “People expressed their anger against the unholy alliance of PDP-BJP in the Srinagar parliamentary polls and would have done the same in south Kashmir.”
Qarra said that by deferring the polls, the PDP has managed to avoid defeat momentarily in south Kashmir. “They (PDP) will re-strategise their moves in areas where the Congress or NC is strong. Under the garb of postponement, they have bought time to save their skin,” Qarra said.