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As J&K's First Election Since Article 370 Move Ends, Concerns Over Fairness and the Future

As the voting started on Saturday, the Peoples Democratic Party staged a sit-in demonstration outside Bijbehara police station in protest against the alleged detention of party workers.
Armed forces personnel check voter IDs before allowing voters to enter a polling station at Ganeshpora, a village in Anantnag district. Photo: Umar Farooq

Anantnag (J&K): Amid allegations of political favouritism and illegal detentions, the first Lok Sabha election in Jammu and Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370 concluded with the Anantnag constituency recording a moderate voter turnout of 53% on Saturday, May 25.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The average voter turnout in Jammu and Kashmir jumped to 57.83% in the 18th Lok Sabha election, several notches up from 41.16% in the 2019 election, which had paved the way for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led union government to bifurcate the erstwhile state into two union territories.

Among those whose fate hangs in the balance are former J&K chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, senior tribal leader Mian Altaf Larvi, Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Lone and Pahari leader Zafar Manhas.

The outcome of the ongoing Lok Sabha election will weigh heavily on the upcoming assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir which are scheduled to be held by the end of September with both Omar and Mehbooba vowing to stay away from the process until the statehood of J&K is restored.

The south Kashmir constituency, which was redrawn by J&K Delimitation Commission in 2022, allegedly to favour the political manoeuvres of the saffron party, will decide the fate of Mufti who is locked in a close triangular contest with the BJP-backed Apni Party’s Manhas and tribal leader Larvi of the National Conference.

Mushtaq Ahmad Ganie, 50 shows his ink marked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ganeshpora, a village in Anantnag district. Photo: Umar Farooq

Despite high temperature, the tribal heartland of the constituency, which is expected to play a decisive role in the outcome of the election, registered a high voter turnout with the Rajouri assembly segment in Jammu region recording the highest polling percentage of 66.09% followed by Nowshera segment with 65.47%, Thanna Mandi with 65.34% and Mendhar with 64.69% voter turnout.

However, the voters in Kashmir were less enthusiastic about the election with Mehbooba’s home constituency of Srigufwara – Bijbehara recording 42.40% turnout while the turnout was even lower at 31.21% in Anantnag and 34.65% in Anantnag (west).

However, moderate polling was recorded in Damhal Hanjipora (55%), Devsar (41.50%), Dooru (45.21%) and Kokernag (50%) assembly segments of the constituency.

The CPI (M) leader M.Y. Tarigami’s Kulgam constituency also recorded a low voter turnout of 31.99%, according to the Election Commission data.

Shakoor Ahmad Kohli, 65 shows his ink marked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ganeshpora, a village in Anantnag district. Photo: Umar Farooq

Mushtaq Ahmad Ganie, a resident of Anantnag district, said that he was casting his vote against the BJP and its ally, the Apni Party, “Kashmiris are voting in good numbers this election because they want peace. The political situation has already pushed people to the wall. We don’t want to suffer more,” Ganie, 50, said while exiting the polling station at Ganishipora village in a black kameez-pyjama.

Muzaffar Ahmad Shah, a resident of Seer Hamdan village in Anantnag, said that the election was an opportunity for people to choose their representative who could become their voice and seek redressal of their issues in the parliament.

Also read: Why NC, PDP Have Called ECI’s Decision to Postpone Anantnag Poll a ‘Conspiracy’

“A positive change can happen if we come out to vote and elect our own representative. We can succeed in changing the system only through democratic means. By coming out to vote in large numbers, people are definitely sending a message to the leaders in the country that we are ready for a change,” Shah, a young businessman, said.

Shakoor Ahmad Kohli, who belongs to the Gujjar-Bakarwal community, said that the inflation was the main issue for their nomadic community who migrate between the plains and high pasturelands of Jammu and Kashmir along with their families and livestock.

Sitting in the compound of the polling station in Ganshipora, a village which has a mixed population of Gujjars, Bakarwals and Kashmiris, Shakoor said that he was going to cast his vote with the hope that the issues faced by their community will be raised in the parliament.

Voters cast their ballots at a polling station in Ganeshpora , a village in Anantnag district. Photo: Umar Farooq

“As a community, we are voting for the candidate who can bring positive change in our lives,” Kohli, 65, who sported a white beard, said.

Earlier this year, the BJP-led government granted ‘Scheduled Tribe’ status to Paharis, a linguistic community in Jammu and Kashmir who are expected to play a critical role in deciding the outcome of the election for Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency after the Gujjars and Bakkerwals, the traditional votebank of the National Conference candidate Larvi.

The two tribal communities constitute a significant votebank in the trans-Pir Panjal constituency.

Earlier, as the voting started on Saturday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president, accompanied by other party leaders, staged a sit-in demonstration outside Bijbehara police station in protest against the alleged detention of her party workers.

In a letter to the Election Commission of India, she alleged that the “police in Anantnag, Shopian, and Kulgam have initiated a campaign of terror against our polling agents”. Without citing details, Mehbooba alleged that “numerous polling agents” of the PDP were allegedly illegally detained or summoned to police stations.

“At numerous places, especially in Anantnag district, the workers are being threatened and harassed in order to deter them from casting their votes,” the PDP president said, alleging that the police action had threatened the “integrity of the polling process.”

With inputs from Umar Farooq.

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