DESPARDES News Monitor: India is in full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast on 19 May. The fifth phase concluded elections for all six seats in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which witnessed the lowest voter turnout of less 3 percent in Shopian and Pulwama districts,
Both towns are part of the Anantnag constituency. The twin districts recorded a voter turnout of 2.81 percent with 300 out of 695 polling booths empty of voters.
Overall, the constituency recorded a dismally low voter turnout at 8.7% in the fifth phase of India’s marathon election- the biggest polling on earth.
Independent sources revealed that the actual turnout was less than the official quote.
In 2014, 29% of the registered voters had showed up to cast their ballot in Anantnag, which includes Pulwama town where the suicide attack took place in February killing more than 40 Indian troops.
“This year was different,” Kashmir-based journalist Riyaz Malik told BBC. The Pulwama attack and the Indo-Pak tensions dominated the elections.
The voter turnout reflects the battle of narratives in the constituency. Several separatist leaders had called for a boycott of the polls, while political parties and the Election Commission had appealed to people to vote in large numbers.
A Srinagar-based English daily stated that polling booths were deserted and staff remained absent, thereby recording the lowest turnout in the constituency in the final phase of the Indian elections.
Modi’s government has given the military carte-blanche to counter resistance to Indian rule, which means it has taken aim not just at armed militants but also the regular people increasingly supporting their cause. The move is deeply unpopular in occupied Kashmir.
Analysts say that Mr Modi and his party could witness a “boost” in Hindu votes after making national security one of their main electoral planks.
But Mr Malik believes that this “muscular narrative” may have actually “instilled fear among the locals” in Kashmir.
He added that boycott calls from separatists were common, but locals would still show up and wait in line to vote.
“There is a strong sense of dissatisfaction, which has probably contributed to a low voter turnout this year.”
Nazir Ahmed, a trader in the outskirts of the region’s main city of Srinagar told ABC News,”Modi and his party have waged a war against people in Kashmir,” “This election doesn’t matter in Kashmir. But Kashmir matters for election in India.”
“We don’t believe in Indian democracy and its farcical elections here,” said Mumeen Ahamd, 28, a Pulwama resident.
Kashmiris maintained their distance from the latest ballot as a sign of alienation and protest against the state-sanctioned brutality in the occupied valley, analysts say.
But, “There is a great mahaul (atmosphere) for Modi, and the BJP will benefit,” said BJP’s the party’s leader Ram Madhav today. “Our main issue is our five-year report card and Modi-ji’s personality” .
The Himalayan Muslim-majority territory is divided between India and Pakistan but has been claimed by both in its entirety since the two nations gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and immediately started fighting over the territory.
Initially, the anti-India movement in the Indian-controlled portion of the territory was largely peaceful, but after a series of broken promises and a crackdown on dissent, Kashmiris launched a full-blown armed revolt in 1989, seeking unification with Islamabad or complete independence for the entire region.