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Anantnag goes with separatists, turnout poor

india Updated: May 01, 2009 00:56 IST
Rashid Ahmed
Rashid Ahmed
Hindustan Times
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Confounding expectations once again, residents of Anantnag, the first constituency in the Valley where Lok Sabha polls were held, responded positively to the separatists call to boycott them. Voting was barely around 25 per cent.

The two other seats in the Valley, Srinagar and Baramullah will vote on May 7 and 13. Anantnag, 55 km south of Srinagar, has always been a separatist stronghold.

But the same residents had surprised all during the assembly elections in November-December last year by totally disregarding a similar boycott call. The average vote in the 16 assembly segments that make up this Lok Sabha constituency, had been around 56 per cent.

Indeed so demoralised was the separatist All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) by the voters’ response across the Valley, that it initially refrained from issuing a boycott call when the Lok Sabha polls were announced. Later, under pressure from certain quarters, a mildly worded boycott appeal was issued. Few expected it to have any effect.

But in fact the call has been obeyed. Three of Anantnag’s 16 assembly segments — Pahalgam, Shangus and Noorabad — saw fairly high polling at 55 per cent, 53 per cent and 49 per cent respectively. It is these three regions that enabled the overall voting percentage in the constituency to touch a reasonable 25 per cent.

In many of the other segments — specially Tral, Pampore, Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag and Dooru — there was hardly any voting at all.

According to chief electoral officer B.R. Sharma, Tral recorded the lowest at 2.83 per cent, followed by Pampore at 4.65 per cent.

Though polling began at 7 am, only nine votes had been cast at a polling booth in Pampore by around 2 pm, when HT checked. At another booth in Shopian just four votes had been cast by then, the presiding officer there revealed over telephone. In several booths in Tral no votes had been cast at all till late afternoon.

“We will not vote,” said Ghulam Mohammed Mir, 45, at Shopian. “We support the boycott.”
“Assembly elections were a different matter,” said Nazir Ahmed Bhat, a government employee at Shopian. “We need a government in the state which we can approach with our problems. Lok Sabha elections are to form a government at the Centre. What do we care who forms the government at the Centre?”

Separatist leaders, led by Mirwaiz Umar and Syed Ali Shah Geelani congratulated the people of Anantnag for their fortitude.