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A lukewarm response in Kashmir

comment Updated: May 08, 2014 00:39 IST
Hindustan Times
general election 2014

The final round of polling in Kashmir made a contrasting picture to India's ongoing democratic exercise. While polling in Baramulla was marked by several incidents of violence, in Ladakh, it was, as expected, peaceful. In Baramulla, police fired teargas at a crowd calling for a boycott of the polls and a grenade exploded at a polling station. No voter was hurt. Baramulla recorded a turnout of 39% and Ladakh 65%. The low turnout in Baramulla is not a surprise because this area has been the hub of militancy and there is still widespread anger over the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The turnout in Sopore, which is Guru's hometown, was 1%. More than 30,000 security men have been deployed to ensure free and peaceful voting in 1,616 polling stations in Baramulla. In the 2009 parliamentary elections, 41.84% votes were polled in Baramulla and 71.86% in Ladakh. The conflict-ridden state has 12.5 million people, and more than 70 candidates were in the fray for six Lok Sabha seats.

The polling percentage in Kashmir has been low since the 1989 polls, which were held after the allegedly ‘rigged' 1987 assembly polls: In 1999, it was 14.3%, in 2004, 15% and in 2009, 27%. The corresponding national figures were 60%, 58% and 58.7%. Interestingly, the turnout was as high as 68% in the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, 4 percentage points above the national record of 64%, which would probably be broken this year if we go by the trend so far. The reasons for such a low turnout in Kashmir are not far to seek: The fear of violence and the election boycott call of the separatists, and, in many cases, people possibly don't relate to the Lok Sabha elections as they do to civic and assembly elections when they turn out in full strength in the hope that their grievances will be redressed.

For the Indian State, the polling figures in Kashmir should be a reason for concern because it shows that the momentum that was generated after the confidence-building measures suggested by the Centre-appointed interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir, led by Dileep Padgaonkar, in 2011, has now been completely lost, thanks to the lack of political unity.

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