Mehbooba appears safe in 34% turnout Anantnag by-election
Boycott has an impact but no untoward incident, no major complaints
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
ANANTNAG, Jun 22: Even as only about one-third of the electorate turned up at the polling stations to exercise their franchise and two-third did not participate in the democratic exercise, polling for by-election on the all-important Anantnag segment was conducted by the authorities on Wednesday in the backdrop of a routine boycott call from different separatist and militant outfits. Ruling PDP’s President and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is seeking vote to become a member of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly following her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death in January.
In the 8-cornered contest, Mehbooba’s key rivals are Iftikhar Hussain Misgar of National Conference (NC) and Hilal Ahmad Shah of Congress. In 2014 Assembly election, PDP’s Mufti Sayeed had secured around 16,000 votes while as Shah and Misgar had polled 11,000 and 2500 respectively. In 6 months of having taken over as Chief Minister on April 4, Mehbooba is constitutionally bound to become an elected member of either Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council. While functioning as CM, she is retaining her seat in Parliament as in 2014 Lok Sabha elections she had been returned from South Kashmir for her second term.
Mehbooba has also won Assembly elections three times in her 20-year-long political career from Bijbehara, Pahalgam and Wachi segments in South Kashmir.
District Election Officer and Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag Dr Syed Abid Rashid Shah told STATE TIMES that 33.84% voters exercised their right. He said that 102 polling stations had been set up for 84,067 voters. Of them 28, 446, including 638 migrants (out of 4229 migrant voters), cast their vote. This is around 5% short of the 39% turnout recorded in General Assembly elections here in 2014. DC said that the polling was conducted in a free and fair atmosphere with utmost transparency and cleanliness. He asserted that neither any untoward incident took place anywhere nor had he received any written complaint from any candidate or his authorised agent.
Later, addressing a press conference in Srinagar, Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu said that 15,384 male and 13,062 female regular voters, besides 638 migrants cast their vote. He said that 13 polling booths had been set up at Jammu for migrant voters and one each at Udhampur and Delhi, adding that 3 additional Observers were also deployed for these three locations.
Shantmanu said that the Election Commission of India had deployed 4 Observers including two General Observers, one Expenditure Observer and one Police and Security Observer for monitoring. He said 118 EVMs were used for the polling on 117 polling booths, saying that one EVM was replaced at Gangyal Jammu before start of poll as it developed technical snag. He said 582 personnel were detailed for election duty.
Shantmanu said that 102 polling booths were setup at 61 designated locations which included 52 hypersensitive and 50 sensitive polling stations. He said that 20 polling stations were set up as model polling stations equipped with necessary facilities. He said 77 Micro Observers were deployed on the booths to ensure free and fair polls. He said that webcasting facility at 20 polling booths and videography at 5 polling booths was also available to cover the poll process. He said that the postal ballots were also dispatched to migrants, service voters and detainees and under trials at different places.
Counting will take place on June 25 and results will be announced on the same day.
Different militant outfits and alliances, including United Jihad Council, had asked the people of Anantnag to completely boycott Wednesday’s polling. Besides, all the separatist political parties and conglomerates, including both factions of Hurriyat Conference, had also called for boycott to the election. Because of these calls, as also a degree of fear caused by the June 3 and June 4 killing of 5 Police and BSF personnel in Anantnag and Bijbehara, the polling recorded only a moderate voter turnout.
This correspondent interacted with polling staff, voters and election agents of different contesting candidates at around 40 polling stations. All of them said invariably that the polling was going on without a single complaint of bogus voting, bribing of voters, coercion by Police or security forces and other unfair means, Agents maintained that no non-voter had turned up in an attempt to cast a vote.
While as the peripheral polling stations of Kihribal, Krangsoo, Van Trag and Muniwar crossed 60 and 70% turnout, there was only poor to moderate polling in the main township of Anantnag. Hazratbal and New Qazibagh, the localities around the spot on KP Road where militants had gunned down two Policemen on June 4th, witnessed the lowest turnout of 6 to 7 percent. DC Anantnag claimed that not a single polling booth had drawn blank like in many of the previous elections.
Liaquat Nazir, a BA Hons Political Science student of Jamia Millia Islamia, who lives in Muniwar neighbourhood but is not registered as a voter, said on the pattern of the voting: “Most of the people here are voting for Mehbooba Mufti because she is the sitting Chief Minister and the people feel that she could give them the best of development. They think they would become disempowered if Ms Mufti loses the election and Chief Ministership. Many of the voters here had favoured Congress candidate Hilal Ahmad Shah in 2014 with the expectation that Congress could form the government with NC. Today, even if he is elected, he will have no powers and would have to sit in opposition. That’s the wastage of a vote”.
Nazir and over 50 others, who were interviewed at different polling stations, maintained that Mehbooba’s alliance with BJP-RSS was no issue in Anantnag. “Those who are worried about the Nation of Kashmir have boycotted the polling. Those who want development, employment etc have exercised their right---this time for Beti Chief Minister. Had she not been CM, it would have been hard for her to get a vote”.
NC candidate Misgar’s brother in law Dr Feroz said in Mir Dantar locality that PDP would win again. He, however, added that Misgar would stand at number two this time as Shah of Congress had become a very week candidate and lost a chunk of his voters in the last two years.
[Published in today’s STATE TIMES]