J-K Polls: Pandits' No-show May Hit BJP's Chances

15 December 2014
The Hindustan Times
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi

Srinagar: The low turnout of migrant Kashmiri Pandit voters in Sunday's polling has cast a shadow on the BJP's chances to register its first ever win in Kashmir valley, especially from Habba Kadal constituency. There were a total of 16,710 Kashmiri Pandit voters in Habba Kadal out of which only 5,176 registered themselves in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi. But in the end only 2,817 cast their votes at the three places. This was much less than the 8,707 votes polled at various polling stations across the constituency. Overall, the constituency with total voters of 54,852 witnessed a voting percentage of 21.01%, an increase of about 10 percentage points from 11.28 recorded in 2008 polls. Banking on the Kashmiri Pandit votes and the boycott call being enforced by separatists, the BJP had fielded businessman Moti Koul from Habba Kadal. The National Conference (NC) had given the ticket to its sitting legislator Shameema Firdous while the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had fielded veteran journalist Zafar Mehraj. The other key contenders included Sanjay Saraf of the Lok Janshakti Party, an NDA constituent, and former minister Raman Mattoo of the Congress. The NC had retained the seat six times since 1962. Before the assembly elections, the BJP had launched an extensive campaign to mobilise the Kashmiri Pandit voters and also announced an economic package for their safe return to the valley. However, many Kashmiri Pandits told HT that the mobilisation campaign should have been started immediately after this summer's Lok Sabha polls. 'We were also disappointed by BJP's U-turn on Article 370 and other crucial issues,' a Kashmiri Pandit leader told HT on the condition of anonymity. The increase in the voting percentage from Habba Kadal is widely being attributed to the anti-BJP sentiment prevailing in the Kashmir valley. Surprisingly, the turnout of Kashmiri Pandit voters in Habba Kadal was even less than that recorded in other constituencies of the Srinagar city. While 837 out of 1355 cast their votes in Amira Kadal, 484 of 838 in Batamaloo, 236 out of 397 in Sonawar, 290 of 982 in Khanyar, 68 out of 155 in Idgah, 77 of 129 in Zadibal and 360 out of 605 in Hazratbal. In all, there were 30,364 Kashmiri Pandit voters in eight assembly constituencies of Srinagar. Of those, 9638 had registered themselves in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi while 5.169 cast votes on Sunday.