2014 Polls Throwback To 1996

24 April 2014
Rising Kashmir
Faisul Yaseen

Anantnag: South Kashmir's Anantnag parliamentary constituency Thursday witnessed election boycott and civil curfew on the call of separatists besides numerous incidents of protests and stone pelting, coercion by troops, bogus voting, attack on media by Police, and sporadic voting. The towns and villages in south Kashmir wore a deserted look with business establishments remaining closed and passenger traffic staying off the roads. The entire parliamentary constituency spread over four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian witnessed massive presence of paramilitary forces and police while fear psychosis was evident among the voters after the killing of four political workers ahead of the polls. A woman in her mid seventies, Sara Begum, of Veer village of Bijbehara assembly segment of Anantnag district, had come out to cast her vote early in the morning at 53-A polling station at Veer. 'I'm voting hoping the new candidate will help eradicate poverty from the region,' she said. Ruqaiya Rashid, a first time voters of the same village, said she was a 12th standard student and wanted to choose the candidate of her choice. 'Even if we don't get jobs, casting votes will benefit us,' she said. Abdul Rehman Bhat (Veeri), the local MLA and former MoS Home, also came to cast his vote at this polling station amid two-layers of security with paramilitary forces guarding the polling stations from inside and policemen from outside. Soon after casting his vote, he said the ruling National Conference (NC)-led government's tenure was about to end and there was a strong anti-incumbency drive against them. Although 12 candidates are in the fray for this Lok Sabha seat spread over 16 assembly segments in the four districts, the contest is expected to be a one-on-one fight between ruling National Conference candidate Mehboob Beg and opposition PDP president Mehbooba Mufti. Of the 16 assembly segments, PDP MLAs represent 12, Congress two and NC and CPI (M) one each. At 49-A Bragpora polling station, a woman Shaheena Bano, who had come to cast her vote carrying her child in lap, said she was casting vote for the party her family members had asked her to. A female Anganwari worker on duty at a polling station said though she was helping others with voting, she herself stood for poll boycott and would not cast vote. A local Congress leader, Syed Wajahat who came to vote at 50-B Bragpora polling station said Congress activists were voting for NC although he was not accompanied by any Congress men. Outside the Bragpora polling station, Ali Muhammad, 60, a resident of the area said the killings of political workers in Tral ahead of the polls had a direct bearing on the voter turnaround. Fearing 2014 parliamentary polls in Kashmir would again be rigged on the pattern of 1987 Assembly polls, he said if that happens, people as old as him would be forced to pick up arms. Another resident of Bragpora, Ghulam Muhammad said after the Tral attacks, threat perception during the ongoing polls was more. By afternoon, most of the polling booths in south Kashmir presented a deserted look a la 1996 Assembly polls while youth staged protests and pelted stones at police and paramilitary forces outside the polling booths. The 71-A and 72-B polling booths in Shangus assembly segment wore a deserted look although some people had come to cast votes early in the morning. Militants had shot dead a Congress Sarpanch, his son and a Numberdar (a village official) Monday night, three days ahead of polling for Anantnag LS seat, in Tral area of Pulwama district. Earlier, militants had shot dead a PDP sarpanch in Awantipora area of the district. However, there were some exceptions where the voter turnaround was brisk if not overwhelming. Polling booths outside the residence of Social Welfare Minister and senior Congress leader, Sakina Itoo at Damhal Hanjipora in Noorabad assembly segment of Kulgam district, witnessed brisk polling. Coming out after casting his vote at 30-B polling station at Damhal Hanjipora, Tajamul Islam Bhat, a B.A. final year student of Damhal Hanjipora College said he had cast his vote to 'bring a revolution'. Another young voter Abid Hussain Mir said he had 'voted for a change'. He said scandals like BOPEE and incidents like the hanging of Afzal Guru had forced him to come out to 'vote for change'. Amid brisk polling, minor voters were also casting votes. Meenu, a 15-year-old girl, said she was studying in 10th standard and had cast her vote. Just then Mushtaq Ahmad Alai, another resident of Damhal Hanjipora, said earlier, a 6th standard student had cast her vote. On how minors were allowed to vote, the on duty polling official said they could not do anything to stop minor voters as their names figured in the voter list. 'Once somebody is in the list, even if we know they are minors, we cannot do anything to stop them from voting,' he said. Outside the polling station, scores of youth said they were being victimized by police. 'Even if we stage protests over local issues, police registers cases against us,' a group of youth said. 'Around 50 cases have been registered against youth in the village of the sitting MLA of Noorabad.' While poll boycott was apparent, south Kashmir's parliamentary polls also saw coercion by Army, reminding of 1996 Legislative Assembly polls, which saw both low voter turnaround as well as coercion by Army. In Shurath Kolpora area of Kulgam, Army personnel were swooping in residential areas and agriculture fields and asking people to come out and vote. They were also chasing away youth from near the polling stations who were trying to enforce poll boycott. The Army men were also facilitating bogus voting and giving cover to vehicles ferrying bogus voters including a KMD bus bearing registration No JK01F 2029. Army men, deployed in large numbers, were also seen coercing people to vote in Ashmuji, Killam and Pahloo areas of Kulgam district. In Kulgam chowk, around 100 policemen swooped on to a team of journalists covering elections and injured the Mail Today photojournalist, Javed Dar and smashed the window panes of the Santro vehicle of Rising Kashmir Photo Editor, Farooq Javed. As south Kashmir witnessed civil curfew on the call of separatists, kids were seen playing cricket on streets and open fields. The low voter turnaround in south Kashmir might be an embarrassment to the mainstream as over 72 percent people boycotted polls despite government's stopping of separatists to campaign against polling.