With an overall rise of over 5% as compared to the 2008 assembly polls, 15 of Jammu and Kashmir’s 87 constituencies saw a record 70% turnout in the first phase of the state elections on Tuesday. Even amid a boycott call by separatists, there was no major violence till the filing of this report around 8pm, and the turnout in the Valley specifically — which saw a rise of 11% — is the highest ever.
Deputy election commissioner Vinod Zutshi said in New Delhi that it was a big increase over the 64.9% turnout in the last assembly poll in these areas and also the 52.6% recorded in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year. He noted that the turnout in Kashmir was the “highest since Independence”.He attributed it to adequate security and awareness among voters despite the recent floods.
Voters showing their voters slips as they are waiting for their turn to cast vote on the first phase polling at a polling booth in Doda near Jammu on Tuesday. Nitin Kanotra / HT Photo
Of the 15 seats, six are in the Jammu division, five in Kashmir and four in Ladakh, spread over seven districts. Seats in Kashmir recorded 71% polling with an 11% rise, while Ladakh’s four seats saw 68% turnout, which is 2% lower than last time. In Jammu, the turnout was 69.7% in 2008; it rose to 71% this time.
Sonawari recorded the highest polling at 80%, a whopping 20% rise over the 2008 figure for this seat, according to details provided by the Election Commission (EC).The lowest voting was in Ganderbal at 52.97, which is over 1% higher than last time. The EC said the figures could be updated by Wednesday.
Voters standing in a queue to cast their votes outside the polling booth in Sonawari on Tuesday. Waseem Andrabi/ HT Photo
Notably, Kishtwar, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed a rally as part of an aggressive BJP campaign, saw a drop of nearly 6% when compared to the 2008 figure of 74%. Except Sonawari, none of these constituencies had been directly affected by the recent floods.
In the Lok Sabha polls, when the BJP and PDP won from Jammu and Kashmir regions respectively, the turnout was 70% in Jammu and 31% in the valley. The math, thus, could be hard to interpret now as, even in areas in Kashmir where the LS poll turnout was extremely low, voters came out in large numbers this time.
The high turnout is also being seen as a result of massive mobilisation by parties. While both the PDP and BJP are vying to be the largest parties riding anti-incumbency, the NC and Congress, having broken their alliance after being in power for six years together, have galvanised resources to bring their traditional voters to the booth.
Incumbent chief minister and National Conference working president Omar Abdullah wrote on his Twitter account: “Good luck to all my colleagues whose electoral fates will be determined today... Reports of brisk polling in the valley are very encouraging. Glad to hear turnout in Chenab valley seats also picking up.”
State Congress president Saifuddin Soz said,“We appreciate the enthusiasm of people, who had suffered in the floods. We are hopeful of repeating our performance.”
PDP spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar interpreted the heavy voting as “a reflection of that people’s desire for change”. “When people want to punish someone, in a democracy, they come out in large numbers. Congress and National Conference will be the biggest losers,” he said.
Even though the poll percentage in Jammu region is close to that in the last assembly elections, consolidation and polarisation of votes along religious lines could benefit the BJP. “The 2008 elections are far behind. Now it’s a fight between PM Modi and the rest. People are going to vote either for or against him. The turnout shows people are rallying behind the PM, for change,” claimed BJP campaign committee member Hari Om.