Once again, Kashmir observed a near-total boycott of elections in the valley. But for the first time in recent memory, the boycott was civil and peaceful. Like last three phases, there was not a single incident of poll-related violence during the fourth and final phase Urban Local Bodies elections today. Held after a gap of 13 years because of tension and unrest, the polls saw about eight times more security personnel than the number of votes cast.
The media, however, was at the receiving end after the police barred journalists and TV crews from entering polling station premises at many places despite having valid authority letters issued by the state Election Commission.
Today’s polling ended with a dismal 4 per cent voter turnout. It echoed the record low voting turnout in the last three phases: Six per cent in the first and 3 per cent each in the second and third phases of polling.
“No election has been so peaceful as this election in Kashmir. We are not concerned about the voting percentage. For us what matters is that polling was completely peaceful. Even boycott was civil,” a senior police officer said. The centre brought in 400 companies or about 40,000 personnel of paramilitary forces to assist the already heavy security set up in Kashmir.
The police however denied that there was any direction to restrict media from entering polling stations.
“It may have been done at local-level by some cops. But after your report in the morning we have issued instructions to all formations that media should be allowed to go wherever they want to visit. We have nothing to hide,” Swayam Praksh Pani, Inspector General of Police, said.
It was for the first time that mainstream regional parties, who have always ruled the state, joined the boycott. These parties want the centre to take a firm stand on safeguarding Kashmir’s special status which has been challenged before the Supreme Court.
Although there were fears of violence before the elections, the elections eventually turned out to be a remarkably peaceful one. There were no anti-poll protests, stone-throwing incidents or terrorist attacks related to the elections.
Two National Conference workers in Srinagar were killed but they were not linked to the polls because the party was not participating in elections.
Last year during by-elections for Srinagar parliament constituency, nine people were killed in firing by security forces on polling day and dozens were injured. The polling was marred by attacks on polling stations, protests and stone-throwing. That violence was seen as a major reason for the boycott and a humiliating turnout of just 7 per cent.
But despite the heightened security this time, the degree of fear was underlined by the fact that the state election commission kept the names of candidates a secret. In most places people didn’t know who their candidates are.
The opposition parties called it a sham election and the controversial remarks by Jammu and Kashmir governor naming the prospective Mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation even before the polls gave them a handle to question the credibility of polls.
“It’s a selection being done in the name of election. What else a proof you need than the governor naming a person as mayor before polls,” said Aga Rohullah, chief spokesperson of National Conference.
But Sajad Lone, a former minister and BJP ally in Kashmir, defended the governor’s comment.
“Governor reflected what was emanating from the reports at an official and unofficial level - that who could be one of the contenders for the post of mayor. Junaid Matoo’s name cropped up and we are supporting him,” said Sajad Lone.
The poll boycott by regional parties has led to a situation where more than 60 per cent municipal seats across 10 districts of the valley are either vacant or a single candidates was elected unopposed.
Despite a massive turnout in other regions of Jammu and Kashmir, the overall poll percentage too remained very low.
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