The gruesome violence that left eight dead in the Kashmir Valley on Sunday, during the Srinagar parliamentary election polling – that witnessed the lowest voter turnout in the last 29 years – has cast a grim shadow over the upcoming bypolls in the Anantnag constituency of South Kashmir.
But, more than that, if the Election Commission decides to call off the polls altogether, then it would be a colossal failure on part of both the state and central government to ensure peaceful polls. It also puts a blatant questions mark on the security forces of Jammu and Kashmir who, if you go by Sunday’s violence, failed to anticipate the magnitude of the rage on the streets.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's brother, Tassaduq Hussain, who is the ruling party (PDP) candidate from the Anantnag constituency, held a press conference in Srinagar on Monday, requesting the Elections Commission to postpone the polling as 'the atmosphere was not conducive for the polls.'
In doing so, Tassaduq indirectly questioned his sister Mehbooba’s security grid, that failed to contain the violence in the first phase of the byelections – in the three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderball.
"You cannot force people to vote and you cannot force people not to vote,” Tassaduq said, adding that democracy should not lead to killing of people.
Earlier, during his campaign trail, Tassaduq had told Firstpost that last year's unrest in the Valley, that witnessed the killing of close to hundred people, would definitely impact his candidacy.
If the Election Commission – which is currently deliberating and consulting stakeholders on the issue in the Valley – does decide to call off the polls, it would effectively be a huge victory for separatists in the Valley, who have been calling for a poll boycott.
Starting with the 1996 polls, no election has been called off due to violence in Kashmir – even during the peak of militancy. Sunday's election will go in history as one of the bloodiest democratic exercises in history, with an abysmally low voter turnout of 7.14 percent.
In the 1989 Lok Sabha election, when insurgency had just erupted in the state, the Srinagar parliamentary constituency witnessed just 5.18 percent participation. Those were some of the worst days for electoral democracy in Kashmir, as the summer capital witnessed no contest at all. No one filed the nomination papers other than National Conference’s Mohammad Shafi Bhat, who won uncontested.
On Sunday, violence in many parts of the polling areas was uncontrollable. This unimagined, unanticipated violence left eight people dead and injured more than 100. Most of the deaths occurred in the Budgam district of Central Kashmir, an area that had largely remained peaceful during previous polls. This is being seen as one of the reasons why the security forces were unable to assess the situation correctly as the violence erupted in places which traditionally saw long queues of peaceful voters on election day.
Former chief minister and National Conference president Omar Abdullah said that he sees Tassaduq's statement as a direct "indictment of his sister’s government."
“EC is well within its powers to postpone or countermand Anantnag election but if so @MehboobaMufti must reign & Governor should take charge,” Omar said in one his tweets.
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) April 10, 2017
As focus started to shift from Srinagar to Anantnag on Monday, tension surged across South Kashmir. Two middle schools, designated as polling stations, were burnt down on Sunday night in the Shopian and Pulwama districts. The house of an ex-Sarpanch was damaged and firing was heard in the Shopian area last night. The constituency is scheduled to go polls on Wednesday.
Tassaduq and Congress state chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir will contest for the Anantnag seat, vacated by Mehbooba after she became the chief minister. The constituency witnessed minimal political activity on the ground due to the tense situation.
Updated Date: Apr 10, 2017 18:42 PM