Eight persons were killed in firing and scores, including securitymen, were injured in violent clashes Sunday during the bypoll to the prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha seat which saw a voter turnout of only 7.14 per cent, a new low for the sea
Official estimates put the injured count at 300 — 200 civilians and 100 security personnel.
The main theatre of stone-pelting and violent protests was Budgam, a district that traditionally records high voter turnout in the Valley — in the last Assembly election, the turnout in the district was 59.11 per cent.
Six protesters were killed in firing at four different places. Two more deaths were reported in the evening — a Ganderbal man succumbed to injuries at the SKIMS Hospital and an 18-year-old died at Barsoo.
A polling booth in Ganderbal was set ablaze after protesters hurled petrol bombs.
The Srinagar Lok Sabha seat is spread over three districts — Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal — and the main contestants for the seat are Farooq Abdullah, joint candidate of the National Conference and Congress, and Nazir Ahmad Khan, nominee of the ruling PDP. The seat fell vacant after Tariq Hameed Karra of the PDP resigned to protest the crackdown on street protesters last year.
Internet services were down at most places as polling began this morning. By noon, 118 polling stations had already closed.
Official figures put the voter turnout at a record low of 7.14 per cent, revised from 6.5 per cent announced earlier.
In the evening, J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu told reporters: “As of now, a little above 80,000 votes were polled which makes it a poll percentage of 6.5… (It) is much less than 26 per cent which was the polling percentage in the last election in 2014… not a good day for all of us.”
“There were incidents of stone pelting. Petrol bombs were hurled and a polling booth was set ablaze. EVMs were also damaged in the process but many of these EVMs were received back. There were firing incidents and we lost six lives,” he said.
Shantmanu said the Election Commission would take a final call on “what is to be done in those cases where elections were not concluded”.
Unlike the previous years, the festive mood at polling booths was missing. There were no long queues outside booths where youths gathered to raise slogans.
At Aripanthan, the home village of PDP candidate Nazir Ahmad Khan, youths collected outside a government building that housed two polling booths and threw stones at paramilitary personnel deployed there. The protest stopped only after the polling staff and securitymen told the protesters that the gates of the polling station would be closed.
“How can they (political parties) expect us to vote,” said Fayaz Ahmad, one of the protesters. “Only six months ago, four youth died in our village,” he said, referring to the crackdown on street protesters last year.
Nazir Ahmad Khan, who had secured more than 20,000 votes in the Assembly elections on a Congress ticket, joined the PDP recently and was counting on his home turf to win.
At several places in Beerwah, people attacked polling stations, forcing the election staff to end polling in the afternoon. In the Assembly elections, the turnout in Beerwah was 74.59 per cent.
In the village of Rathsuna, men and women entered a polling station and tried to snatch an EVM. A 30-year-old was killed and a woman critically injured when security personnel opened fire.
The other deaths took place in Daulatpora in Chadoora, Dalwan village in Chrar-e-Sharief and at Check Kawoosa in Narbal village.
Srinagar and Ganderbal districts were relatively peaceful but not many people turned out to vote. At the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Bemina, only five of 1,541 votes were cast in the first three hours. Voter turnout was also low in the twin towns of Ganderbal and Kangan.
The only departure from the trend was at Lar village in Ganderbal. By 2.30 pm, 492 of 1,215 votes were polled at Lar A while 352 of 1,232 votes had been cast at Lar B. Riyaz Ahmad Sheikh (38) said: “We have two political families living in two parts of the village” — he was referring to NC leader Ishfaq Jabbar and PDP leader Qazi Afzal. “If their (Jabbar’s) relatives and neighbours come out to vote, we will definitely walk to the polling booths to cast our votes. It is village rivalry,” he said.
In Wusan, a resident said: “The boycott is our message to politicians without ethics. In the last elections, the PDP took votes to keep the BJP away and they are now sharing power. NC had made similar mistakes in the past. They are taking common people for a ride.”
(PTI adds: Expressing distress over the death of civilians in firing by security forces, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said: “I am distressed to know that many of those killed were young or teenagers who were yet to understand the intricacies of the issues.”
“This is the time that people of all shades of opinion in the state should come together and help in stopping this cycle of violence and bloodshed which unfortunately has plagued Jammu and Kashmir for three decades now,” she said.)
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took to Twitter: “Have contested 6 elections over 20 years & have never seen this level of violence in elections in Kashmir. Six dead, many injured. What a terrible day. Condolences to the families of the deceased & prayers for the injured.”
The separatists called the “boycott” a success and mourned the deaths. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said: “The only way for us to express our collective grief at their death and share the sorrow with the bereaved families is to observe a shutdown… The leadership has decided to observe a two-day shutdown on Monday and Tuesday.”