Record 76% Voting In J&K's Final Phase

20 December 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arun Joshi

Jammu: Curtains fell on the most polarised Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir today with 76 per cent voters exercising their franchise in the fifth and final phase - beating the record of all previous four phases. The overall polling percentage of the Assembly polls in all five phases was recorded at 66 per cent, higher by 5 per cent recorded in 2008 (61.16 per cent) and highest since 1987 when it was 74.88 per cent. But it did not mandate any single party with a clear majority in the House of 87. The BJP, National Conference, Congress and the PDP mobilised voters to the polling booths. The saffron party, which has embarked on Mission 44-plus, aims at forming the government in the state, where its best performance was 11 seats six years ago. After 1987, the elections were held in 1996 because of the eruption of militancy. In 1996, the voter turnout was 53.92 per cent, which fell to 43.7 per cent in 2002 and rose to 61.16 in 2008. Defying all premonitions voiced by sceptics about the voters' turnout being low because of the September floods, separatists' boycott call, militants' threat, the voters throughout the state (barring about half-a-dozen constituencies in the Valley) came out in large numbers. They were 'motivated by the yearning for good governance, development, change for betterment of their destiny and also to stop in tracks the BJP's march into Kashmir', while Jammu voted to 'find its feet and voice against alleged discrimination with the region'. The 2014 elections would be remembered for polarisation and the reverse polarisation as the BJP, driven by Modi charisma, embarked on Mission 44-plus in the House of 87. With each phase, the issue in the campaign kept on changing. The general theme, however, remained defeating the 'divisive forces' and need for good and corruption-free governance. The BJP remained silent on the contentious issues of Article 370 that grants special status to the state and uniform civil code and ignored its longstanding slogan of discrimination with Jammu before the conclusion of the four phases, but raked it up ahead of the fifth phase in which Hindu-dominated parts of Jammu region went to polls today. These constituencies would decide the fate of the BJP's Mission 44-plus. While the results would be announced on December 23, the political parties have started thinking of their options as it has become increasingly clear, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, that the voters have given a fractured mandate to the parties. The contest this time is between Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a decimated Congress, Omar Abdullah's National Conference (NC) and PM Narendra Modi's BJP. The PDP is regarded as the party that may secure maximum number of seats, with the BJP emerging second and the NC and the Congress competing to share third and fourth positions. But the last-minute change of voters' minds in the Valley may upset the applecart. The Congress and the NC were hoping for surprises and also saw themselves as key players in the government formation. Though leaders hailed the high voter turnout as 'victory of democracy', another dimension states that Kashmir voters came out to stall the Mission 44-plus of the BJP, which is yet to be accepted by the Muslim-majority regions of the state. However, in Jammu, Hindu voters turned out in high numbers to register strength. It was a close contest in some of the constituencies such as Jammu East, Gandhi Nagar, Akhnoor, Khour, Nowshera, Darhal, Rajouri, Bani and Kathua, but voters did not hide their choice. Modi, who had held eight of the nine rallies in Jammu region, appeared to be a major factor in the last phase of the elections.