Budgam: The road leading to the main town of Budgam district was deserted. Broken pieces of car windshields were everywhere and people were missing from the roads. Curious and frightened paramilitary soldiers dotted the main arc of this central Kashmir town, as protests and clashes broke out in almost all the village surrounding this township. Unmoved by the mounting number of causalities and clashes around, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, was working in his fields planting seeds of spinach and cauliflower.
Dar, who lives in the Shia-majority area of Budgam district that has traditionally voted in droves, even during the worst years of poll boycotts by militants and separatists groups, chose not to vote on Sunday. A shout by Shia clerics previously here would ensure long cues of voters outside polling booths, but this time around most of them were deserted with youngsters outside keeping a close watch on the voters.
"Earlier Aga Sahib (Shia clerics) would tell us to vote and we would leave early in the morning to vote, and there would be huge lines. It was a decree, but this time, despite repeated attempts by religious heads, we have decide not to vote. It will make no difference," Dar, 68, told Firstpost, in his fields in the Sheikhpora area of Budgam, when paramilitary soldiers were engaged in fierce clashes as the protesters tried to storm the polling both in the nearby village of Khag.
"In the past three decades, I have never seen people so angry at the government. Despite militancy, elections were still being held and people would still vote, even after 2008 and 2010. But neither the state government not the Centre has clearly understood the anger and pain on the ground," he added.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party had designated minister in the Jammu and Kashmir government Molvi Imran Raza Ansari, a Shia cleric, party in-charge for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency, of which Budgam is a part, to woo the voters of this minority community. But the low voter turnout, even in places that have traditionally seen massive voting turnout in Budgam, disappointed the cleric.
"There is no denying the fact that voting percentage has been low. There are obvious reasons for this. We have had a turbulent last year, in which scores of young boys died on the streets. That has had a definite impact on the polling. This is not a win-win situation; no party can claim to have won," Ansari said.
"The voter turnout might have increased but the violence created an atmosphere of fear," he added.
A total of 1,559 polling stations where at least 6,236 members of polling staff were deployed for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, where the fate of two candidates National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah and ruling PDP’s Nazir Khan, was to be decided by 12,61,397 voters. The separatist groups had issued a poll boycott call and militant activities have also witnessed increase during the past fortnight in the Kashmir Valley, particularly in Srinagar and South Kashmir, where polling in Anantnag parliamentary seat will be held on 12 April.
But the massive violence in Budgam hit polling hard after forces opened fire on protestors in Budgam district leaving six people dead. The news spread the length and breadth of the Valley, despite an internet curfew, and protesters took to the streets in many districts of the Valley. Sunday’s voting was the worst electoral exercise in decades, with most young voters resorting to violence. Doctors at hospitals noted that most of the bullet injuries were above the chest.
"This government has failed to provide peaceful atmosphere and assurance to the voters. The tragedy is instead of providing them assurance the government is freighting the voters," Farooq Abdullah said. Meanwhile, Omar Abdullah, the working president of the National Conference tweeted:
Have contested 6 elections over 20 years & have never seen this level of violence in elections in Kashmir
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) April 9, 2017
The separatist groups have called for a complete shutdown on Monday and Tuesday to protest the killing of civilians during clashes. "The only way for us to express our collective grief at their death and share the sorrow with the bereaved family is to observe shutdown and register our solidarity with the martyrs and the cause for which they were killed. The nation will observe a complete shut down on Monday and Tuesday." Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said in a statement.
The chief electoral officer, Jammu and Kashmir, Shantamanu said that a 6.5 percent voter turnout was witnessed in the Srinagar bypolls (the figure was later revised to 7.14 percent) and 200 incidents of violence were reported, with six people killed and 17 injured. Meanwhile, dozens of soldiers were also injured through the day.
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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2017 13:03:22 IST