April 2019 News

Lok Sabha Elections: Volatile South Kashmir Gets Ready To Vote

22 April 2019
India Today
Shuja-ul-Haq

Srinagar: Even though two phases of polling for the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir are over, the litmus test for many political parties will be on April 23, when the people of South Kashmir will cast their ballots in the troubled areas of Anantnag constituency. Because of fears of violence the administration has spread polling in Anantnag over phases. While Anantnag and the adjoining areas are going to polls on April 23, Shopian and Pulwama will be going to polls on May 6. Anantnag parliamentary seat has remained vacant for a protracted period of time in the last term, due to volatile conditions on the ground, which also compelled the Election Commission to defer elections in the region. This is certainly a challenge for the entire administration but we have made full preparations and we hope things will be peacefully conducted, said a senior police officer. Despite tight vigil, there are many challenges on the ground. For instance, in Shopian, the political parties are virtually gasping for breath when it comes to vehement campaigning. The only place being considered safe to hold workers meetings is the government circuit house, which is well fortified, and has enough security around its vicinity. Only Congress and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been able to hold workers meetings at this place. So far no other heavyweight of any political party has been able to address a rally or meeting here. The three mainstream political parties in Kashmir - PDP, Congress and National Conference (NC) - are in direct confrontation with each other. However, even the local leaders from all these parties are apprehensive about the voter turnout. In the first phase of polling, which was held on April 11, around 35 per cent people had cast their votes in Baramulla constituency. While in the second phase on April 18 the voter turnout came down to 14.1 per cent in Srinagar parliamentary constituency. It is going to be difficult in terms of voter turnout. A lot has happened since 2014. South Kashmir has been in the eye of storm since the Burhan Wani incident, says a local worker of a mainstream political party in South Kashmir. In 2018, the voter turnout in the panchayat elections in highly militarized South Kashmir districts of Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag and Pulwama was the lowest. Shopian and Pulwama, in fact, saw zero polling. Almost all the sarpanches and panches won unopposed as there were no candidates in the fray. While in Kulgam, there was no polling in 99 per cent of halqas (wards) and no candidate for 87 per cent of its sarpanch posts. Similarly, in Anantnag there was no contest in 76 per cent of its halqas. Locals say those who became panchs and sarpanchs are mostly outsiders and hardly known to anyone. 'If you talk about those elections, the Shopian municipality has 17 wards and while six wards remained vacant, all the other candidates who had submitted their nominations were Kashmiri Pandit migrants, who do not reside in Shopian and belonged to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They were elected unopposed as there were no candidates in the contest. This is how the situation went at that time here,' said Mushtaq Ahmad, a local resident of Shopian. South Kashmir has been the hot bed of militant activities in the Valley. After 2016 when militant Burhan Wani was killed, the entire region went into a state of unrest. Several local boys were seen taking the path of the gun as they entered the militant ranks. Despite all the anti-militancy operations conducted by the government the region still remains highly volatile.

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