8 killed in Kashmir bypoll violence, Srinagar registers poor voter turnout of 7.14%
At least eight people were killed in clashes with security forces during Sunday’s by-election to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, which recorded a poor voter turnout of 7.14%. (HIGHLIGHTS)
Violence marred polling in Ater assembly seat in Madhya Pradesh too, where police firing was reported from two places after villagers allegedly threw stones at Congress candidate Hemant Katare’s car. Six vehicles, including police cars, were damaged, sources said.
The biggest bloodshed was recorded in Srinagar, where the by-poll was held along with 10 assembly constituencies in eight states, including New Delhi’s Rajouri Garden.
“There were more than 200 incidents of violence, mostly in Budgam district, which included stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks, setting ablaze of a polling station, some vehicles and attempt to burn another two polling booths,” Jammu and Kashmir chief electoral officer Shantmanu said.
“It was not a good day for us.” And he admitted that the by-poll in Anantnag on April 12 would be a bigger challenge.
Internet services in the Valley have been suspended till Wednesday.
The violence in Kashmir followed a separatist call to boycott the by-election, saying the situation is not right to hold a democratic exercise after last year’s unprecedented public unrest triggered by the killing of popular militant commander Burhan Wani.
People took to the streets to enforce the boycott across the constituency straddling Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts.
Polling staff abandoned almost 70% of booths in Budgam district because of the violent protests. Army was called out to help security forces quell mobs throwing stones and petrol bombs at polling stations in Ganderbal district.
Security teams fired bullets as well as the controversial pellet guns to disperse mobs. Pellet guns — a so-called non-lethal weapon — have killed, maimed and blinded hundreds of people during the 2016 unrest.
On Sunday, at least one man died of pellet wounds, director general of police SP Vaid said.
A senior doctor at Budgam district hospital confirmed that the majority of patients were being treated for pellet wounds.
Most of the dead were young men, including a 15-year-old Faizaan Ahmad Rather and Amir Manzoor, who was 17.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said she was pained that most of them were teenagers. “I am distressed … they were yet to understand the intricacies of the issues,” she said.
Former chief minister and opposition National Conference working president Omar Abdullah, whose father Farooq Abdullah is contesting the by-poll, said he had never seen this level of violence in elections in Kashmir.
“I am talking about having fought my first election in 1998 at the peak of militancy. Even then the environment for campaigning and voting was not as bad as it is today. That may itself tell you just how mismanaged this state is under Mehbooba Mufti,” he said.
Repolling could be ordered in “anywhere around 50 or 100 polling stations or more” because of the violence, according to state poll panel chief Shantmanu.
“The tentative voter turnout is 6.5%,” he said.
That’s much lower than the 2014 parliamentary polls, which recorded 26%.
In the 1989 elections, National Conference’s Mohammad Shafi Bhat won the seat uncontested. The previous lowest turnout in the prestigious seat was 11.93% in 1999 when Omar Abdullah had defeated Mehbooba Mufti in a straight contest.
Police firing was also reported in Madhya Pradesh’s Ater seat after Congress and BJP workers clashed. Polls in the state were preceded by controversies related to electronic voting machines.
People damaged the Congress candidate Katara’s car at Sankri polling booth, where he had gone to check reports of booth capturing by BJP candidate Arvind Bhadoria’s followers.
But the state election commission dismissed reports of booth capturing.
By-elections in another assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh, two in Karnataka, one each in West Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi ended peacefully.
In all, by-elections were held in nine assembly constituencies in six states, besides the Srinagar parliamentary seat.
Rajouri Garden assembly seat in west Delhi recorded a poor turnout of 47%. The by-election is seen as the trailer to the municipal polls this month. The seat was held by the Aam Aadmi Party’s Jarnail Singh before he resigned to contest the Punjab assembly polls this February.
In Jharkhand’s Littipara assembly by-poll, about 72% turnout was recorded till evening.
The by-poll is viewed as a prestige issue for the ruling BJP and the opposition Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the state. The BJP is trying to capture a seat that the JMM has held for 40 years.
Polling was peaceful and around 52% votes were cast in six hours in the Kanthi Dakshin assembly by-poll in West Bengal. The ruling Trinamool Congress has nominated former minister of state for health Chandrima Bhattacharya as its candidate.
Bhattacharya had lost from Dum Dum (North) in last year’s assembly polls.
In Karnataka, by-polls to Nanjangud and Gundlupet assembly constituencies were held. Fresh polls had to be called at Nanjanagud as V Srinivas Prasad, the Congress MLA, resigned after he was dropped from the ministry. Prasad is now the BJP candidate.
In Dholpur assembly constituency in Rajasthan, where the BJP is in power, 74% polling was recorded.
Polling was peaceful amid reports of electronic voting machine (EVM) and voter verified paper audit trial (VVPAT) malfunctions at some booths, Rajasthan’s chief electoral officer Ashwini Bhagat said.
(With inputs from HTC Bhopal, Kolkata, Ranchi and agencies)