In a rare instance, a single Lok Sabha constituency will be going to polls in three phases. Anantnag, vacated by Mehbooba Mufti back in July 2016 after she became chief minister, has remained without a representative since. Now, the constituency has set a poll record of sorts with the decision to stagger the election here.
Polls in the seat, which comprises the four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama in South Kashmir, would be held district-wise. While Anantnag district will see polling in the third phase of elections on April 23, Kulgam would go to polls in the fourth phase (April 29). In the fifth phase on May 6, the twin districts of Shopian and Pulwama will see polling.
Jammu and Kashmir has five other parliamentary seats, where elections would be held over five phases of the polls.
The Election Commission took the decision to conduct phase-wise elections for Anantnag following feedback from civil, police and security establishment in the Valley. Sources say while officials of the civil administration were in favour of simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in the state, security agencies put their foot down given the situation on the ground. An official who was present at the meeting said that concerning Anantnag, “the opinion was that it would be difficult even to conduct parliament elections in the seat”.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 28 per cent voters had turned out to vote in Anantnag, just 1 per cent more than the turnout in the 2009 elections.
“For the first time perhaps, we are seeing elections in a single parliamentary constituency over three phases,” Congress state president Ghulam Ahmad Mir said. “For five years, (Prime Minister) Modi sahib used to tell us that he has improved the situation in Kashmir. But today he has handed a certificate to himself that in five years Kashmir has reached the worst security situation.”
The ambiguity about the polls can be gauged from the fact that none of the major political parties in the Valley has yet announced their candidates for the elections.
Barely four days before Mehbooba had resigned from the seat, on July 4, 2016, the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani had triggered massive protests in the Valley, especially in South Kashmir. The protests and the subsequent rise in the recruitment of local militants had made South Kashmir inaccessible to mainstream politicians.
In 2017, the Election Commission had announced by-polls in Anantnag for April 12. However, five days before the elections, protests and violence had led to the death of seven civilians during another by-poll, for Srinagar parliamentary constituency. The EC had then deferred the polls to May and later, in the absence of any significant improvement in the security situation, indefinitely.
In the recently held municipal and panchayat elections, most of the seats in South Kashmir had remained either vacant or the candidates were elected unopposed.
A senior police officer said, “Even though the elections would be held in three phases, it would still be a major security challenge for us. We don’t have to deal just with militancy but also ensure that there are no protests or civilian casualties during the elections.