Did The Shopian Encounter Topple Voter-Turnout Rates In Kashmir?
On May 03, 2019, security forces in Jammu & Kashmir engaged in a gun battle in Shopian, which ended with three terrorists being gunned-down and an army soldier getting injured. One of the three encountered men was Lateef ‘Tiger’, the last one among the Burhan Wani gang. This encounter in Shopian took place just two days prior to the 5th and final phase of elections which also include Shopian and Pulwama districts of the Anantnag constituency, and it was feared that the encounter would further worsen the voter turn out on 06 May 2019 (5th phase).
The Shopian Encounter
Army’s 34 Rashtriya Rifles, J&K police’s SOG and CRPF personnel launched a joint cordon and search operation to take into custody three terrorists in Shopian. After a fiery gun battle, the security forces were able to gun them down. During the operation, civilian-protestors tried to distract the special forces and some even resorted to stone-pelting. The security forces used teargas canisters and pellet shotguns to quell the protests, during which at least 17 protestors and an army soldier suffered injuries.
After the encounter, traders closed their shops anticipating riots, transport services were paused and the authorities snapped the mobile internet services and suspended train services throughout South Kashmir.
As per reports, around 7,000 to 10,000 Kashmiris participating in Lateef’s funeral later.
Voter turnout in Kashmir
Past incidents of uprisings and militants’ encounters in Kashmir have left an indelible mark in the country’s memory. To recall the most recent one, Burhan Wani’s encounter elicited 5 months of turmoil in the state. Many other encounters have elicited protests from the people. Encounters have time and again sparked riots and protests. After the encounter of Lateef, the situation in Pulwama and Shopian grew tense and the officials also took measures to quell protests. In spite of this knowledge, the EC did not deem it essential to reschedule the elections.
During the last five Lok Sabha elections, Kashmir has had the least voter turn out amongst all the Indian states and Union Territories. Of the 543 parliamentary constituencies, Srinagar and Anantnag have witnessed the poorest voter turnout in India since 1999. However, the turnout of Shopian and Pulwama this year, as compared to the last three consecutive Lok Sabha elections is the poorest.
The voter turnout rates in successive Lok Sabha elections suggest that the encounter in Shopian might have taken a toll on the voter turnout rate during the 5th phase of 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Shopian and Pulwama.
Moreover, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which was split into 5 phases, saw a significant decline in voter turnout in the later phases. While Phase I recorded a voter turn out percentage greater than 50%, phase three, four and five recorded an abysmal 13.63%, 10.32% and 18.2% respectively.
“Measures have been taken to keep the militants away during the elections. There have been crackdowns on separatists, Hurriyat leaders are kept away, Mirwaiz and Geelani are in confinement, regardless of which there was low voter turn out,” political analyst Sheikh Showkat tells The Logical Indian.
An election process irrespective of how democratically conducted proves to be futile if the voter turnout rate is as low as 3%. The EC could’ve rescheduled the elections in Shopian and Pulwama and waited for the rage to simmer down. The EC postponed polling in Tripura owing to law and order concerns. “The law and order situation prevailing … is not conducive to the holding of the free and fair poll,” said the EC on April 16 2019. If elections in Tripura were postponed due to law and order concerns, with a similar situation now in Shopian and Pulwama, EC could have considered taking the same action in these two Kashmiri districts as well.
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