In the last phase of polling for the civic elections in Kashmir on Tuesday, the voting turnout remained dismal – just 4.2 per cent of the voters exercised their franchise.
The day was marked with protests, clashes and long queues of voters in a few parts of Srinagar and Ganderbal even after militants carried out an attack on Monday night, leaving two CRPF men injured in south Kashmir’s Pulwama.
Of the eight municipalities, which were scheduled to go to the polls in the fourth and last phase, voting was held only for the Srinagar and Ganderbal civic bodies as other municipalities either didn’t get candidates to contest or some candidates won uncontested. In 24 wards of Srinagar, of 2,42,122 voters only 9,678 cast their votes while in 12 wards of Ganderbal, out of 8,491 voters only 956 cast their votes. Official figures reveal that 11.3 per cent voter turnout was recorded from Ganderbal, once a National Conference bastion, while 4 per cent voting was recorded in the summer capital. The overall voting percentage in the last phase was put out as 4.2 per cent by the election authorities.
“New Delhi should read the writing on the wall that the low voting percentage is a strong message for the resolution of the long-pending Kashmir issue,” said a youth at Rainawari in Srinagar, where youth pelted stones at a polling station.
In some other parts of Srinagar and Ganderbal, unemployment and developmental issues dominated the narrative of voters.
For 19-year-old Mehreen Saba of the Dalgate locality in Srinagar, the elections to municipalities are an answer to the increasing rate of unemployment among youth in Kashmir. No one in her family of five has any government job. Her elder sister is postgraduate in home science and brother an engineering graduate. Her father is a labourer and mother a housewife. Saba had come to vote along with her mother for Congress candidate Shamima.
She had passed Class XII examination in 2017 and is preparing to appear in the National Entrance-cum-Eligibility Test (NEET) for admission into a professional course. Even after militant threats and the Hurriyat call for poll boycott, Saba had come to vote for a government job for her siblings as promised by the Congress candidate. “This will be my first and last vote if our candidate doesn’t fulfil her promise,” she said.
Some yards away at another polling station at Burn Hall School, National Panthers Party candidate Mubina Nabi was luring voters with promises of jobs and skill development schemes. “I will ensure our women and girls are safe within and outside their homes. I will make sure unemployed women get vocational training and finance to establish their small businesses,” said Nabi.
Over the years Srinagar and Ganderbal have seen the execution of major infrastructure projects. However, unemployment among youth has remained a public grievance as the major source of income – handicrafts – is on the decline.
In 307 polling stations, the election authorities had kept the poll timing as 6 am to 4 pm for 24,1043 voters to cast their votes. Out of 132 wards, 44 had remained vacant while 52 candidates won the election without a contest in the fourth phase of polling.