Srinagar, May 6: Voting in Jammu and Kashmir’s restive Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency – which went to polls in an unprecedented three stages – ended on Monday with the heavy security ensuring a largely peaceful election, but the turnout not even reaching double figures.
With the final round held in Shopian and Pulwama districts on Monday only recording only three per cent polling, the overall turnout in the constituency – which had been vacant for over three years – aggregates to around nine per cent of the over 1.3 million voters.
The first phase of the polling in Anantnag district on April 23 saw the highest turnout – at 13.61, while the second phase, involving the Kulgam district, on April 29 saw the voting percentage dip to 10.32.
Anantnag, which comprised the four south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama, which have been the worst-affected by militant violence during the last three years.
The cycle of violence reached a new high in this area after July 8, 2016 when homegrown militancy’s “poster boy” Burhan Wani was killed by security forces in a gunfight in Anantnag.
Wani’s death not only launched a new wave of homegrown militancy with even educated youth joining militant ranks, but also triggered widespread unrest in which 98 civilians were killed in bloody clashes with security forces.
Over 4,000 people were injured with around 200 of them losing vision, either partially or permanently.
In this millieu, the seat remained vacant since January 2016 when Mehbooba Mufti, who won it in the 2014 Parliamentary elections, resigned from the Lok Sabha in 2016 to become Chief Ministerafter the death of her father and Peoples Democratic Party chief Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in January 2016.
Bypoll to the constituency could not be held due to the highly-volatile security situation.
The Election Commission faced such a major challenge that for the first time in the country’s electoral history, it was forced to hold multiple rounds of polling in a single constituency and extraordinary security arrangements were made for all the three phases.
Ahead of the last phase, various incidents of mob violence were reported on Sunday and the security situation remained so fragile that the poll staff for 24 polling stations in Zainapora sub-division of Shopian had to be airlifted, instead of taking the 13-km-long journey by road.
In the final phase on Monday, 300 companies of central armed police force (CAPF) were deployed in Shopian and Pulwama.
However, credit for the largely peaceful poll is also deserved by the state police, which has been bearing the brunt of militant violence in the area for three years now.
While 18 candidates are in the fray, the main contest is between Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ghulam Ahmad Mir of the Congress and Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference.
Votes would be counted on May 23