EVMs airlifted to Zainapora, all polling stations marked ‘hyper-sensitive’, voter turnout expected to touch record low
Pulwama/Shopian: Voter turnout is expected to be even bleaker than that in Anantnag and Kulgam districts, further denting the prospect of Mehbooba Mufti winning the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, in the third phase of polling to be held here in Shopian and Pulwama districts on Monday.
Anantnag district voted on April 23 with a polling percentage of 14, while as Kulgam district on April 29 saw a voter turnout of just over 10 percent.
The dismal voting in these two comparatively peaceful districts of south Kashmir had already cast a shadow over the poll process in restive Pulwama and Shopian.
“Now, with some events unfolding right ahead of the poll day, the impression is that the turnout is going to be way below than what it was in the earlier phases,” a political analyst from south Kashmir, requesting not to be named, said.
The events he was speaking of started to unfold on Thursday, first with posters by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen warning people that if they vote they will be killed. “Our commander Riyaz Naikoo has told you time and again to desist from polls but some people don’t listen. The time is over now. We will act against them and put their videos in public. There were enough warnings and deliberation; now it’s time to act,” the posters read.
The very next day, a gunfight in Imam Sahib area of Shopian district saw three local militants killed, among them a former associate of Burhan Wani, Lateef Tiger of Pulwama. In clashes that erupted around the site of the gunfight, at least 20 civilians were injured.
As these incidents were sinking in, a killing in Anantnag district, of an elderly Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, shot dead right inside his home in Verinag area, meant yet another dent in the chances of people coming out to vote.
The 60-year-old Ghulam Muhammad Mir had a long association with the BJP and had contested the 2014 assembly elections on the party’s ticket from Dooru area of Anantnag.
“His killing will obviously have an impact on the morale of the potential voters in Pulwama and Shopian districts,” a mainstream political worker from Shopian district told Kashmir Reader.
On the ground, indifference to the elections and fear of violence is palpable in both the districts. People whom Kashmir Reader talked to expressed a general indifference towards the polling process, while workers of mainstream political parties said they were apprehensive, and uncertain, about May 6.
“You have seen there have been no rallies, only workers’ conventions at secure locations. Even then, the parties have not managed to attract more than a couple of hundred workers in any of the meetings,” a political worker from Pulwama district said.
The fear is also palpable from the actions of the security establishment. On Saturday, the Congress party was not given security clearance to hold a scheduled workers’ meet at the circuit house in Shopian.
On Sunday, as per police sources, the authorities airlifted polling material from District Police Lines in Shopian to Zainapora area in Shopian district. This was done for some 38 polling booths.
“The fact that they had to airlift the EVMs and other related things for a distance of less than 20 kilometers speaks volumes about the situation on ground,” a police source confided in Kashmir Reader.
Moreover, many polling stations have been shifted, from sensitive areas, and merged with other polling stations at comparatively safer places in both the districts.
“This was done to keep any mishap at arm’s length,” the police source revealed.
Amid all the fear, indifference and the uncertainty, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is emerging as the worst hit one, given the fact that south Kashmir has been their erstwhile bastion.
The PDP has already been worried with the dismal voter turnout in Anantnag and Kulgam districts, coupled with decent polling in strongholds of parties like National Conference (NC) and the Congress.
“Bijbehara, Mehbooba Mufti’s home town, stayed away from polls en masse, with less than two percent people casting their vote. Pahalgam voted and, I believe, it has become a stronghold of the NC over the years. Likewise, voting in Kokernag, Dooru and other pockets in the upper reaches of Anantnag district is only going to hurt PDP,” a PDP insider told Kashmir Reader.
He said that the pattern was repeated in Kulgam district with Congress and NC bastions like Devsar and Noorabad, in that order, voting while other areas stayed away.
“Our hopes were pinned on Pulwama and Shopian districts, where we have a well spread-out cadre and pockets of extreme strength,” the PDP insider said, adding that the events unfolding right ahead of the polls indicate that the districts are going to stay away from polling booths.
It will be a serious blow to Mehbooba Mufti’s of chance of winning the seat, he said.
The authorities have set up 695 polling stations across the two districts, with 450 of them in Pulwama and the rest 245 in Shopian district.
All 695 polling stations have been designated as “hyper sensitive” by the security agencies.
A total of 5,22,530 voters are eligible to vote, with 3,51,314 voters in Pulwama district and 1,71,216 in Shopian district.