R S Gull
Even though the second phase of assembly elections involving 18 segments across J&K five districts concluded peacefully, the overall turnout is telling its own story. Unlike the first phase that suggested a phenomenal participation, especially in Kashmir, the second phase exhibited the up-and-the-low pattern. But the spirit of ‘change’ is understood to have been around, in this phase too.
Unlike Jammu, the nine Kashmir constituencies told a different story: barring Noorabad where Ms Sakina Itto is pitted against a PDP man, the participation in all other segments was low, compared to the 2008. It, certain areas, it was lower than even the Lok Sabha polls that took place in 2014 summer.
Noorabad (Damhal Hanjipora) tops the list with 77.6%, the highest ever, so far. Compared to all earlier polls (see table), it is the new record for the constituency and the credit goes to intense involvement of the voters divided between NC and PDP. Though lot many are in the contest from this segment, the two parties are in direct contest.
By polling 75%, border Karnah aka Tangdar is the second highest in the order of participation percentage. But the same segment had polled 79.19% in 2008 and 70.44% in the Lok Sabha polls. By being the highest polled, it still compromised its own record of 2008.The twin segments of Langate and Handwara polled 71% which is the thirst highest in the phase. While Handwara polled less than 2008, for Langate the record is highest ever. In both the places, the contest is direct one: in Handwara between NC and Sajjad Lone and in Langate – a triangular one between independent MLA Rashid Sheikh nee Engineer and PDP. Even PC is chasing the two because being in the Lone-influenced belt.
The two persons – Lone and Sheikh, had converted the two seats into a real battle-ground by massively mobilizing people. Unlike Langate where NC is not in contest, Choudhary Ramzan in Handwara has fought the battle at enormous costs. For the first time, he faced a real major crisis challenging his retention of the seat after representing it four terms.
The two other Kupwara seats – Kupwara main and Lolab Valley – polled 62% and 55%, respectively. But both the seats compromised their earlier record. They had polled better in 2008 and in Lok Sabha polls last summer (see table).
The energy to the contest was thrown by Peoples Conference which made the contest really scary. Many people in the town said the PC kicked NC out of the contest and making it PDP versus PC. But it is too early to be accepted as a fact.
In neighbouring Lolab that Haq Khan has retained twice, the contest was interesting for other reasons. The entry of two players – the PC and the Congress, had made the contest in this Valley, horribly interesting. Locals said the valley is divided between two parts – Pot Nai, the North Lolab and the Brounh Nai, the south Lolab. Given the NC making Sogami, centre of Brounh Nai as its centre, the other belt has always been angry. To exploit this situation, Congress fielded Haji Farooq who has reportedly reduced NCs vote bank from this belt.
Unlike NC, PDP made Lalpora its main focus. Off late, at least two of PDP men left the party and joined PC. Both of them have been vital of PCs gains in the belt.
Given this division within, the major decision-maker is expected to be Machil that usually sways the outcome. In Lok Sabha, it voted for PC. Nobody knows which side it went this time. In the square contest involving four parties, it will be Machil that might have decided the fate of the parties on Tuesday.
From Kashmir, it leaves the three constituencies of Kulgam, Humshalibugh and Devsar in south Kashmir. Bordering each other, they polled 55.4%, 36.5% and 60.03%, respectively. Interestingly, this poll percentage is a new low if compared with 2008. All the three has improved phenomenally in 2008. Devsar still made it huge given the entry of Congress Mohammad Amin, who courted many controversies, to stay in the count, this season. But it is too early to say that he dented the capacity of PDPs Sartaj Madni.
Kulgam was sluggish in the beginning but picked up later in the day. The contest, local said, is terrific because it eventually turned out to be triangular one – Communist leader Yousuf Tarigami, who has been routinely representing it since 1996, defending the turf against PDP and NCs Imran Nabi Dar. Though Dar will take a good chunk of new votes from the urban part of the seat, he still lacks a fair share from the voter seeking ‘change’.
But Homshalibugh became the least polled segment in phase-2. It polled barely 36.5% which is slightly more than half what it recorded in 2008. In fact, four of its polling stations were not visited by any voter till the EVMs were sealed for return.
Police had arrested a number of youth in the area to ensure a peaceful polling but it was reacted and the chain-reaction took place. But various areas which were away from the tension-ridden Khudwani-Kaimoh belt, also did not oblige the system.
One major reason being put forward is the failure of the incumbent PDP MLA Abdul Gaffar Sofi to stay relevant. Increasingly inaccessible, his party sources said, he was rarely visiting his area. Even his party leaders skipped the belt from any campaigning. That might have been one major factor for people staying away. In a low poll, either of the two sides can make it to the assembly and the locals give both a 50/50 chance.
Even the three Poonch segments accessible by Mughal Road exhibited the same trend. Surankote, Mendhar and Poonch polled 65%, 72% and 73.39%, respectively and all the three records are lesser than that of 2008. State’s secular trio NC, PDP and Congress have stakes in the region. Explaining low poll, a senior lawyer from Poonch said on phone that the dwindling participation is unexplainable. “I see only two reasons – a major section of locals go as seasonal labour to Punjab and the other factor is that contest was so seriously between the parties that they did not permit any bogus voting,” the lawyer said, requesting not to be named.
The lawyer said in all the three seats, there is a neck-to-neck contest between the three parties and the caste divide on Gujjar versus Pahadi versus Kashmiri has always created a situation that polled lost by narrow margins. The same story is possibly being scripted this time too, he felt.
Reasi’s Kashmir speaking Muslim belt comprising Gulabgarh and Gool Arnas created a new record as the Hindu majority Reasi assembly segment did. They polled 80.73%, 80% and 80.28%, respectively which the historic first in all the three segments. Presently Gulbgarh is with NC and Gool Arnas with Congress.
While it is not immediately known which way the wind has blown in Reasi’s secular seats, Reasi urban might have decided on the pattern that its neighbours in Udhampur. In addition to the urban Udhampur, this district has two more seats: Chenani and Ramnagar. While Ramnagar and Udhampur are with the Panthers Party for some time, Congress in 2008 had wrested Chenani from the party in 2008. In the Lok Sabha polls, it briskly polled for BJP. But it remains to be seen if the Panther Singhs of Udhampur hold the fort or have been vanquished by the Sangh.