The bad old days are back.
The polling percentage in Anantnag has fallen by 30 per cent in barely four months. While in the assembly elections in December, the average voting across the 16 constituencies that make up the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat was 56.09 per cent, in the present Anantnag election it was 25 per cent.
It is absurd to seek consolation, as some in the government are doing, in the fact that poll percentage is still 10 points higher than in the last Lok Sabha poll in 2004 when it was just 16 per cent. The situation in recent months — specially after the swearing in of Omar Abdullah as Chief Minister — was believed to be far better than what existed in 2004.
During the assembly elections, Valley voters defying the separatists call for poll boycott boldly gave interviews to TV channels. This time the few who did queue up to vote often hid their faces even from passers by.
What had changed? The threat issued by the United Jehad Council, the confederation of militant groups seeking separation from India, asking residents to boycott the polls or face the consequences, may have had some effect. There had been no such threat during the assembly elections.
But there is a deeper reason. Rejecting the separatists has not done the average Kashmiri much good so far. Despite having a popular elected government in power, living conditions remain wretched for a large majority in the Valley. “The people are impatient for results, which aren’t forthcoming,” said Nazir Ahmed, a resident of Matan Adda, Anantnag.
Who will the boycott benefit? Anantnag is a People Democratic Party stronghold, but the assembly segments which have voted in large numbers — like Dooru and Noorbad — are those where the National Conference and Congress have sitting MLAs. In contrast the PDP held segments have hardly voted at all. Thus the boycott is only likely to help the ruling combine.