For more than two-and-a-half years, it has been without an elected representative; for this single parliamentary seat, the polling in being conducted in three phases and the voting hours have been reduced from eight to six to give security personnel and polling staff enough time before the sunset to withdraw — more than a festival of democracy, the parliamentary elections in Anantnag appear to be a major security operation.
This election in Anantnag, which saw a turnout of 29 per cent in the 2014 elections, is likely to be defined by the call for boycott by the Hurriyat and militants.
The Anantnag parliamentary constituency, spread across the Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts and 16 Assembly segments, will go to polls in three phases, starting from Tuesday.
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On Tuesday, Anantnag district would go to polls. And even as it is less challenging than the other districts, the security agencies have their fingers crossed. Their focus this time is not on turnout, but on violence-free polling.
While 18 candidates are in the fray, the Anantnag seat is likely to see a triangular contest between former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, state Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir and National Conference’s Hasnain Masoodi, a retired high court judge who recently entered politics.
Before the PDP joined hands with the BJP to form a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, Anantnag was its bastion. But after its alliance with the BJP, PDP witnessed a steep decline in its popularity across Kashmir, especially in south Kashmir. And after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, which triggered protests in which nearly 100 civilians were killed, south Kashmir became out of bounds, not just for PDP but all mainstream parties.
Mufti, it is learnt, decided to contest from south Kashmir after a prod from senior PDP leaders who saw this as the only way to attract disgruntled cadres in the region.
While the PDP has cadres across the four south Kashmir districts, the Congress and National Conference have workers in some pockets.
But this time, the outcome of the elections is likely to be defined by boycott. And the candidates have pinned their hopes on boycott in the strongholds of their rivals.
In the 2014 elections, Mufti won from Anantnag by defeating National Conference candidate Mehboob Beig. In 2016, she resigned from Parliament after taking over as Chief Minister and won the Assembly bypolls from Anantnag seat, which was vacated due to her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death.
In 2017, the Election Commission announced bypolls for the Anantnag parliamentary constituency. But two days before the scheduled date, the elections were indefinitely postponed after a bypoll in Srinagar witnessed only 7 per cent turnout and the killing of eight protesters in clashes with security personnel.
While the turnout in Anantnag constituency was 29 per cent in the 2014 general elections, Anantnag district recorded a turnout of over 40 per cent. And that seems to be the reason for holding the polling here in the first phase. The district has pockets like Dooru, Kokernag and Pahalgam, where people have traditionally defied boycott calls and come out to vote. “The focus is not on voter turnout,” said a senior government official. “Even if we have only 15 per cent turnout in Anantnag district, we would welcome it. Our entire focus is to prevent militant violence and civilian protests. We want an incident-free election.”
The officials see the next two phases — in Kulgam on April 29 and in Pulwama and Shopian on May 6 — as more challenging for the security apparatus.