September 1999 News

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Low turnout, fear of militants mar elections

8 September 1999
The Indian Express
By: Arun Sharma

JAMMU: It is neither the writ of the Government nor that of the Election Commission which runs in Jammu and Kashmir. As the state goes to the second phase of polls on September 11, guns hold the key, either those belonging to militants or that of the security forces. Coupled with the voters' disenchantment with the National Conference and the boycott call by the All Party Hurriyat Conference, a low turnout is expected in the second phase as well.

But security is still the crucial point. That's why after the killing of the BJP candidate, the explosion of an IED on the Chief Minister's route and the recovery of hand grenades and a bayonet from two police officers, the EC plans to shift over two dozen polling stations from near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu's Pallanwala area. One reason: voters have refused to return home due to the fear of unprovoked firing by Pakistani troops.

All this despite claims by the Center and the state that there has been a "considerable improvement" in the law and order situation and with Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah appealing to people to exercise their franchise fearlessly.

In fact, no contesting candidate was killed even during the Lok Sabha elections in 1989 when militants had forced over 90 per cent people in Kashmir Valley to stay indoors, or in the 1996 which marked a turning point in the history of militancy, they pointed out.

The state government has recently re-appointed both the corps commanders as its security advisors and reverted back to the old system of having separate unified headquarters to coordinate the functioning of various counter-insurgency agencies.

While Srinagar and Ladakh constituencies went to polls during the first phase of Lok Sabha polls on September 5, Jammu and Udhampur are going to polls during the second phase on September 11. While polling is scheduled to be held in Baramulla during the third phase on September 18, it has been suspended in Anantnag due to the killing of a BJP candidate by militants.

Sources in the administration say all depends on who's holding the gun. there will be a poll boycott where militants' gun call the shots and a high turnout where security personnel dominate, they say. In Srinagar, as reported in The Indian Express, there were several cases of voters being forced to cast their voters so that they could "pass" the "nail parade" in the evening. This is when security forces check to see if the residents' fingers are inked. But officials say that presence of security forces makes people feel safe and encourages them to vote.

Moreover, increasing disenchantment with the National Conference may also contribute to the low turnout. On September 5, there was a meager 12 per cent polling in Srinagar parliamentary constituency as against over 70 per cent in Ladakh during the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in the sate on September 5. Most of the electorate in Srinagar stayed indoor,s otherwise the constituency had witnessed 41 per cent and 30.06 per cent polling during the Lok Sabha elections held in 1996 and 1983 respectively, he said.

With the law and order situation fast deteriorating due to large-scale infiltration of heavily armed militants from across the border everyday, sources said the thread of poll boycott was looming large even in districts like Doda, Rajouri and Poonch. The Hurriyat failed to get much response to its poll boycott call in these areas during the last two Lok Sabha and one Assembly elections since 1996. However, the poll percentage was likely to decrease this item in rural areas of these districts as people were scared of militants' reprisal after the withdrawal of troops at the end of the electoral process. The APHC leaders were also continuing a sustained campaign for poll boycott in these areas.

Meanwhile, the Army recovered a huge cache of explosives including 37 kg of RDX, 107 IED boxes and other sophisticated weapons with Pakistan ordnance factory markings from three militants hideouts in Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir.


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