The bypoll for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat saw historically low voter turnout and was marred by violence that led to the death of eight people. Voter turnout was a mere 7.14%, an all-time low. The same seat recorded a 26% voter turnout in the 2014 general election.
The main candidates for the seat are former J&K chief minister and President of the J&K National Conference Farooq Abdullah, who lost the seat in 2014, and Nazir Ahmad Khan of the PDP. There are seven other candidates in the fray.
Violence & low voter turnout
The by-election saw a turnout of 7.14%, the lowest in history. The previous record for the lowest voter turnout for the seat was seen in 1999, when a little less than 12% turned out to vote.
Almost 70% of the polling booths in some districts were abandoned by polling staff due to violent protests in several areas. The Army was called to help quell a mob which threw stones and hurled petrol bombs to set polling booths on fire.
“The tentative voter turnout for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is 6.5%,” Jammu and Kashmir’s chief electoral officer Shantmanu told reporters. “There were more than 200 incidents of violence in the constituency, mostly in Budgam district, which included stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks, setting ablaze of a polling station, some vehicles and attempt to burn two other polling stations … It was not a good day as you know. Six lives were lost in these incidents of violence … 17 civilians were injured, while over 100 paramilitary and police personnel also sustained injuries.”
Currently, the death toll is at 8.
Meanwhile, by-elections in Assam, Rajasthan, and Karnataka took place peacefully and witnessed high voter turnout.
The Logical Indian take
It is crucial that the Kashmiri people are in trust of Indian democracy. When voter turnout is so abysmally low and elections are accompanied by widespread violence, it is a cause for concern for all of us.
In the 2014 J&K Assembly election, the turnout was the highest in 25 years. Officials termed the turnout as “historic and unprecedented” – overall turnout was 66%, while it was 56 percent in the 2008 elections (the J&K Assembly elections take place every six years).
The high voter turnout was also applauded by the world. For example, the European Parliament lauded how a large number of Kashmiri voters turned out despite calls for the boycott of elections by certain separatist forces: “The spectacle of youth and women coming out in large numbers to vote bodes well for the functioning of Indian democracy … The high voter turnout reveals that the people of Kashmir have complete faith in India’s democratic system and want to be an integral part of the country.”
In the same light, it is self-evident that the travesty of citizens not coming out in large numbers to vote does not bode well for the functioning of Indian democracy. It is imperative that the people of Kashmir have complete faith in India’s democratic system – and this can be quantified best in terms of voter turnout.
When it comes to the 2017 by-election, the numbers look grim and should be a wake-up call for our leaders.