The voting started tentatively in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district where the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is engaged in a crucial by-poll to win back the seat which fell vacant after her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s sudden demise in January this year. Mufti who was a Member Parliament resigned to take over J&K Chief Minister and now needs to win this Assembly seat to become a state legislator.
Mufti who is favourite to win faces nevertheless a tough challenge from the Congress candidate Hilal Ahmad Shah who in the last election had almost pulled off a victory against her father.
The voting picked up as the day progressed, reaching 28 percent by 3 pm. And by 5 pm, the turnout marginally rose to 32 percent, which is way short of the expectation. More so, with Chief Minister contesting from the constituency.
The reasons for this were not far to seek. Over the past two years, South Kashmir has emerged as the new militant hub of the Valley. More than two-third of the around 150 militants operating in the state hail from South Kashmir. And whenever a militant dies in an encounter, thousands pour for his funeral prayers, sometimes villages clashing with one another to offer the burial place for the slain “mujahid”.
Besides, both separatist political groups and the militant outfits had asked people to boycott the by-poll as a proof that they didn’t “repose trust in India’s electoral system and sought Azadi”.
But in polls the people haven’t generally gone by the advice of the separatist groups and often participated overwhelmingly. Last election which gave PDP its largest mandate in Valley saw a massive participation, particularly in rural areas.
Being the Chief Minister of the state, the outcome of the by-poll is important for Mehbooba, It will be a measurement of her popularity in Valley. Some Kashmir observers even see the election outcome as a referendum on PDP-BJP coalition.
When her father passed away in January, less than thousand people addressed his funeral, a development that is seen to have contributed to Mehbooba’s decision to refuse to take over as Chief Minister for three months.
So, the turnout in the by-poll and the margin of her victory will certainly be an indicator of the people’s confidence in Mehbooba. But turnout has already been low, the people would want to see the magnitude of her win.
Mehbooba has urged the people to vote for her and let her “realize the dreams of her father for the state”. After casting her ballot at Kehribal, she toured many polling booths, posing also for selfies. She refused to talk to the press saying she had nothing to say.
However, an opinion poll by Centre For Voting Opinion and Trends In Election Research (CVOTER), has already termed Mehbooba “as a favourite candidate” and given her a disproportionate edge over her nearest Congress rival.
CVOTER has concluded in its snap poll that “71.3% people support Ms Mufti, followed by Congress’s Hilal Shah (20.7%), NC’s Iftikhar Misgar (4.0%) and others (3.0%)”.