The mood of the electorate can well be gauged from their participation in election rallies, which until now has remained thin. There is every likelihood that polling in elections may also be comparatively less. Hamidullah Dar reports from Islamabad. With poll day nearing, campaigning by political parties is picking up mildly in south Kashmir despite party leaders visiting the parliamentary constituency frequently. The mood of the electorate is somewhat sombre as voters generally turn up in lesser numbers during parliamentary election in Kashmir. The trend of low turnout has started from Jammu and displayed a declining slant during the second phase across Banihal tunnel.

Islamabad is slated to go for polls on April 30 and the few days left are used by contesting parties to the hilt to swing the somewhat indifferent mood of electorate. However, participation in public rallies and party meetings is dismally low. Ambitious slogan shouting and noisy sounds of the drum are almost unheard even at this hour of the contest.

“You should not get surprised at the indifference of the electorate as parliamentary election lures only the diehard gross root level party supporters to the campaigning and polling stations,” says Abdul Ahad, a businessman from Islamabad. “The assembly elections are an immediate concern for local governance while as the LS polls do not bring any change in our lives.”

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) feels that it has a strong hold in entire south Kashmir after winning 12 out of the 16 assembly seats in 2008 assembly elections. Its campaigning is comparatively vigourous. However, meagre influence of LS polls blended with boycott calls emanating from the separatist camps may result in low turnout which can throw up surprising results. Analysts say many people have got disenchanted with the election process after witnessing a mammoth turnout during the assembly polls.

“Assembly election is for our day to day issues and we have not observed any discernible change in the redress of our problems. How come we expect a change after LS polls when the person we choose will go to parliament and try there to reinforce the party influence to be in the good books of Delhi,” Raashid Shahzad, a teacher from Kulgam town in south Kashmir says.

The south Kashmir parliamentary constituency has a total electorate of 1165951 including 377 service votes. Out of the total registered votes, 611958 are male and 553,953 are female who will have an opportunity to exercise their franchise in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In comparison, there were 998647 electors registered in the 2004 parliamentary elections. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti won the seat in 2004 by defeating her closest rival, Dr Mehboob Beg of National Conference by a margin of 38,931. The total polling percentage stood at 15.04.
The constituency comprises of 16 assembly segments with 1485 polling stations. Out of these, 1257 are major while 228 are auxiliary polling stations. Islamabad district has the highest number of polling stations at 556.

The constituency was represented by Mohammad Shafi Qureshi (1967, 1971 and 1977 alternately as Congress-NC-Congress candidate). NC candidate Ghulam Rasool Kochak (1980), Begum Akbar Jehan of NC (1984), NC candidate Pyare Lal Handoo (1989), Congress candidate Mufti Muhammad Sayeed (1996), Ali Muhammad Naik of NC (1999) and Mehbooba Mufti of PDP (2002) represented the constituency over the years.

This time, PDP is chiefly riding the Self Rule plank and its rival NC is talking development. Both the enticements, however, have not been effective enough to ensure mass participation in their rallies.

“These promises have been there for quite some time now. When it comes to implementation, both parties (NC and PDP) have failed miserably. There in fact is now no difference between NC and PDP as previously it was PDP-Congress alliance and now it is NC-Congress coalition which gives them the same shape differing only in the literature of promises,” opines Gulzar Ahmad, a government employee from Shopian area.

There are some disgruntled voters as well who have distanced from NC and PDP thinking that it made Dehli based Congress the king maker in Kashmir eating up the interests of Kashmiris. “Congress has proved to be the ultimate winner for the last two elections as it dictates the terms to the two regional parties who befool people of representing them,” says Majeed Malik of Pulwama.


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