April 2017 Byelections Disaster

Md. Sadiq

1 April 2017

The Kashmir Valley’s first major electoral test in April 2017 has proved to be a catastrophe.

The byelections to two Lok Sabha seats came after prolonged protests and shutdowns of 2016.

These by-elections were to be held for two Parliamentary seats - Srinagar and Anantnag.

Polling in Srinagar turned out to be a complete disaster with low voter turn-out, mob violence and the death of eight civilians in security forces firing.

The government machinery proved completely inadequate and later the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Union Home Ministry (MHA) blamed each other for the fiasco.

The Election Commission ordered re-polling on 13 April in Budgam. The turnout was ever worse this time with just 2 per cent people casting their votes.

Eventually, on 15 April, Dr Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister and mentor of the state's principal opposition party, the National Conference, was declared the winner of the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.

Writing in The Indian Express, journalist Basharaat Masood pointed out: "Onlly 7.14 per cent people voted, with Abdullah eventually defeating the PDP's Nazir Ahmad Khan comfortably by 10,558 votes. Abdullah secured 47,927 of the 88,831 votes polled. The seven other candidates in the fray together secured only 2,606 votes, while 929 votes exercised the right to NOTA. While the contest was keen in several Assembly segments of the Srinagar constituency, Abdullah scored big in Budgam and Kangan, where mostly Shia and Gujjar voters came out to vote, respectively. Khan was ahead in Khansahib Assembly segment. "

According to a report in Rising Kashmir, the PDP's performance was pathetic in most assembly segments of the Srinagar Parliamentary constituency. "NC led from Kangan with a margin of 5809 votes securing 10,024 votes against PDP’s 4215 votes, Budgam with a margin of 6313 votes securing 8696 votes against PDP’s 2383 votes, Beerwah with a margin of 230 votes securing 6672 votes against PDP’s 6442, Ganderbal with a margin of 2423 votes securing 4455 votes against PDP’s 2032, Hazratbal with a margin of 205 votes securing 2237 votes against PDP’s 2032 votes, Khanyar with a margin of 1377 votes securing 1828 votes against PDP’s 451, Zadibal with a margin of 1653 votes securing 1750 votes against PDP’s 97, Habba Kadal with a margin of 1108 votes securing 1559 votes against PDP’s 451 and Eidgah with a margin of 198 votes securing 295 votes against PDP’s 97."

"In comparison, PDP led from Amira Kadal with a margin of 475 votes securing 1809 votes against NC’s 1334, Sonwar with a margin of 32 votes securing 2266 votes against NC’s 2234, Batamaloo with a margin of 243 votes securing 2362 votes against NC’s 2119, Chadoora with a margin of 36 votes securing 426 votes against NC’s 390, Khan Sahab with a margin of 3246 votes securing 6415 votes against NC’s 3169 and Chrari Sharief with a margin of 99 votes securing 1696 votes against NC’s 1597."

The elections to the Anantnag seat originally scheduled for 12 April has been deferred to 25 May.

The Anantnag seat had fallen vacant in June 2016 following chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s resignation as Lok Sabha member following her election as MLA from Anantnag assembly segment.

The Srinagar seat had fallen vacant after former PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra had resigned from the PDP as well as Lok Sabha. At that time, he claimed his resignation was a protest against police brutalities in Kashmir.

The byelections should have been held last year but the Election Commission of India agreed to defer them because the PDP-BJP government wanted to defer them on account of last year’s prolonged agitation following the killing of terrorist commander Burhan Wani.

 

The Polling schedule was as follows:

Srinagar 9 April 2017

Anantnag 12 April 2017

Counting of votes: 15 April 2017

 

Main Candidates:

Srinagar:

National Conference and Congress alliance: Dr Farooq Abdullah

People’s Democratic Party: Nazir Ahmad Khan

Anantnag:

People’s Democratic Party: Tassaduq Mufti

Congress: Ghulam Ahmad Mir

The byelections was expected to be a test for chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who has been severely criticized for her alleged “mishandling” of the 2016 agitation that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8 2016.

In the protests, over 10,000 people - 6,000 civilians and 4,000 security persons - were injured and hundreds lost vision due to the use of pellet guns.

The separatist camp had campaigned to boycott the byelections and thereby vote against democracy and the government. Militant organisations too have been against the polls.

The outcome of the byelections would show the current standing of the PDP in the Valley. It is widely thought the party’s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its handling of last year’s agitation has severely eroded the party’s support base in the Valley.

Poor Turn-out on 9 April

The first phase of polling on 9 April for the Srinagar Parliamentary seat turned out to be a total disaster as rampaging mobs attacked polling stations, poll personnel and security forces guarding the booths.

At least eight civilian protestors were shot dead by security forces in retaliatory fire as the mobs did not respond to warning. Scores more are reported to have been injured.

Polling was an abysmal 7.1 per cent as most voters did not dare stir out and some of those who did were grievously assaulted by violent supporters of the election boycott campaign.

 

Voters Turnout Percentage of total electors

Constituency

2004

2009

2014

2017

Srinagar

18.57

25.6

25.86

7.1

Anantnag

15.04

27.1

28.84

 

 

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, overall turnout in the state of Jammu & Kashmir was 49.72 per cent.

 

Md. Sadiq

11 April 2017

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