One killing, one per cent increase in overall votes and boycott marked Srinagar elections as fate of 14 candidates is to be decided. Is it going to be a cakewalk for Farooq Abdullah or the changed voter mood will be decisive? Tasavur Mushtaq reports
As the election for Srinagar Lok Sabha seat is over, political and social circles are abuzz with discussions that who will represent Kashmir in Parliament to represent 12.31 lakh voters, including 5.72 lakh women.
Though the Srinagar parliamentary constituency has consistently displayed a low level of interest in the ballot system, the voter turnout this time was marginally up from 25.55 per cent recorded in the Lok Sabha elections for this constituency in 2009 to 26 per cent. Compared to 2009, eleven lakh voters were added this time in Srinagar constituency.
Of the three districts, Srinagar with 11.46 per cent voting tops the list of lowest voter turnout followed by Budgam (39.50%) and Ganderbal (45.61%) respectively. Among migrant voters of the constituency, 2,500 cast their votes at polling stations set up in Jammu, Udhampur, and Delhi. In Srinagar, none of the eight assembly segments even crossed 20 per cent turnout mark with Habba Kadal recording meager 4.3 per cent voting.
When Chief Electoral Officer Umang Narula revealed the polling figures late evening on April 30, 2014, the major chunk of votes were polled in the bastion of National Conference (NC) Kangan 65.5 per cent, followed by Chari-e-shrief where 65 per cent votes were polled. These two constituencies are represented by NC veterans Mian Altaf and Abdul Rahim Rather respectively. Interestingly according to reports, both the areas which had been NC stronghold are showing gradual shift this time. The factor of concern for NC is youth. Admitting the change, Mian Altaf candidly admits that this time the contest is difficult and “the majority of the youth didn’t vote us”.
Altaf further is reported to have said, “It is not a cake walk for us this time. What we had expected it turned out to be a bit different.”
Interestingly in Pashtun speaking areas of central Kashmir what happened the first time was that women came out to vote. They cited the reason for this development is to counter the “victimization” done by the Gujjar community. While as in Fakir Gujri of Harwan area, most of them were of the opinion that “they vote to be better placed and to feel some change.”
In Chari-e-Shrief area, the voters came out in large numbers. Credible sources say that there was different wave this time, unlike the past. The sources further said that the people who matter for NC in the area did not put efforts to woo the voters.
The figures suggest that Chari-e-Shrief and Kangan in this election had 25000 voters who were to cast their votes for the first time. Political observers feel that it is this lot which is going to make the difference.
Hakeem Muhammad Yasin who represents central Kashmir’s Khan Sahab constituency in state assembly reportedly has shown cold shoulders to NC-Congress alliance. He as political sources say is not happy the way he was treated as he was not given a stint of being in power.
Unlike the past, this time State’s principal opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had all praises for civil and police administration for “ensuring a congenial atmosphere for peaceful polling.” They thanked people for “having voted for a change in the state.”
The statement was in reference to the polling held in South Kashmir where PDP alleges that “there was a sponsored disturbance to enforce a selective boycott.”
Informed sources told Kashmir Life that PDP had sent its emissary to National Security Advisor (NSA) who ensured that there is no interference or influence of various agencies on the polling day. According to sources, police officials were kept on their toes to ensure that there is no “hanky panky.”
Sources further said those police officers in central Kashmir were given strict instructions to stay at bay and not to “interfere” in the polling process in any way.
Srinagar which is represented by NC in the state assembly maintained its tradition of the boycott. All eyes were set to see how the staunch pro-resistance quarter of valley will behave or is there any sign of change in the political mindset of people. There was not.
Though in few areas voting took place but for most of the city inhabitants, the process was “to betray the blood of martyrs”. What prominently was visible on the city streets was Police and paramilitary CRPF men dotting the roads in riot gear. Most of the roads appeared like a garrison with queues of forces’ gypsies and trucks stationed partially blocked several main roads with their vehicles and concertina wires. At the polling booths, election boycott was the only picture visible. Among the 1,546 polling stations, only 3.5 per cent were declared as normal. To man these polling stations nearly seven thousand polling personnel were employed.
Though the polling staff admitted that “It is like an off day,” but what kept them on their toes was “occasional hurling of stones from the locals.”
City face of NC, Ali Muhammad Sagar according to insiders was able to manage only a few thousand votes, but the sources revealed that even all those did not vote for NC. His son and chief of Youth NC, Salman Sagar was roaming in his official vehicle to check the poll percentage at various booths, the feedback he got was the fate of unionists in the old city-“rejection”.
Separatists were vocal in congratulating people for “exemplary” boycott. Taking credit, they think 74 per cent people stayed away on their call. Political commentators believe that the sentiment is so deep that “people in the city don’t by and large relate with the process of elections.”
There are 14 candidates in the fray for Srinagar seat, but the main contest is between NC and PDP. NC chief Dr Farooq Abdullah is seeking re-election while the city man of PDP Tariq Hamid Karra is desperate to seal a win. NC has won the seat every time barring 1971 and 1996 when the party did not contest the polls. Personally, Dr Abdullah has a record of being unbeaten politically. His last stint in Parliament was when he has polled 147035 votes and emerged the winner. This time it seems that NC chief won’t have a “cakewalk” as according to reports the strongholds are turning out to have “voted for change.”
Prior to April 30, various agencies operating in Srinagar were vibrant and cohesive. The situation according to locals was like that of early 1990s. State police chief admitted that they have arrested “known stone pelters” and trouble mongers.”
In this unprecedented security setup when the polling hours culminated, there was the sigh of relief that the day of “high tension” passed peacefully. But the feeling was short lived when four bullets pierced the youth, Bashir Ahmad Bhat in Nawa Kadal area of old city. Hospital officials declared him brought dead. In the same incident, five others were injured.
Police in its bulletin said, “after the polling was over a party of security forces came under severe attack by some miscreants in Nawakadal, Srinagar. The miscreants snatched the weapon of security force personnel. In the ensuing scuffle, two persons identified as Bashir Ahmed Bhat, son of Ghulam Hassan Bhat resident of Gratbal Nawakadal and Nazir Ahmed Kaloo resident of Nawakadal got injured. Bashir Ahmed, later on, succumbed to his injuries.
Locals denied what the police claimed. They said “enraged CRPF men fired indiscriminately” which left Bashir dead and other five others injured”
Public Relations Officer CRPF Kishore Prasad is quoted to have said, “Our men didn’t open fire. There were other forces as well.”
State executive Omar Abdullah expressed grief over the loss of life. He said that “circumstances leading to this tragic loss of life would be thoroughly probed.” His father and NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah claimed that “he stands with the family in this moment of inconsolable sorrow and loss.”
Mehbboba Mufti expressed her “heartfelt condolence” to the bereaved family and said, “killings with impunity only add to tragedies and it is unfortunate that at the end of a comparatively peaceful day a precious life was lost to disproportionate use of force.”
Everybody in the separatist camp condemned the killing and called for a shutdown on the next day, May 1, 2014. Before Bashir was buried, district administration imposed curfew in the old city and it continued till this copy is being filed.
May 16, 2014, will decide the fate of candidates in the fray. As said by Omar Abdullah that this is the first inning, so the results would impact what is coming in autumn this year.