Who the residents of Srinagar vote for is secondary. What is primary is how many of them vote at all. The separatist sentiment in the Kashmir Valley has always been at its strongest here.
The main contestants are Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and his old ally-turned-rival Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari of the People’s Democratic Party. (Farooq’s estranged sister Khalida Shah is also in the fray, but she is a fringe candidate.)
Given his national stature, Farooq is widely expected to win. But with the unexpected success of the boycott in Anantnag last week – when hardly 25 per cent of the electorate voted – the key concern will be the voting percentage.
In the assembly elections last November-December, the Kashmiri people surprised all by ignoring the separatist call for poll boycott, and recording a handsome 62 per cent voting percentage. Yet voting in the eight assembly constituencies of Srinagar district was barely 20 per cent.
However the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat encompasses the neighbouring districts of Budgam and Ganderbal as well, where voting followed the pattern of the rest of the state. Overall voting across the 15 assembly constituencies of the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was 46.3 per cent. Thursday’s figure may well be lower, but how much lower?
At 72, the indefatigable Farooq Abdullah is contesting his fourth election in six months. He stood from two seats in the assembly polls and won them both; he fought the Rajya Sabha poll from Kashmir thereafter and won that too. “We’re asking people to vote for us on the basis of the work done since January,” said his son and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah.
The volume of voting may be crucial for Farooq for another reason. His rival Moulvi Iftikhar is a Shia and Shia voters have traditionally ignored separatist boycott calls. If the Sunnis largely refrain from voting, it will affect Farooq’s chances.