Voter surge in parliamentary election suggests good governance in Jammu and Kashmir

Srinagar Kashmir India

The Baramulla parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) which voted on 20 May 2024, in the fifth round of the seven phases of elections recorded a voter turnout of 55.79 per cent as per the latest data issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) ).

In this northern Kashmir constituency, National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah faced Sajad Lone of the People's Conference and Abdul Rashid Sheikh, alias Engineer Rashid, of Awami Ittehad Party, who contested the election while being in jail, with the People's Democratic Party candidate expected to be a distant fourth among the 22 candidates in the fry.

As per the ECI, this is the highest voter turnout recorded in Baramulla constituency in the last eight Lok Sabha elections in 35 years.

The Office of Lieutenant Governor in a post on unwavering faith in democracy. I congratulate and thank the people of Baramulla for joining the Maha Kumbh of our democracy in large numbers.”

Reacting to his tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated the high voter turnout in Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency in Jammu and Kashmir and said such active participation is a great trend.

Sopore, part of the Baramulla constituency and once dubbed "chhota Pakistan", Jammu and Kashmir's Sopore town witnessed a remarkable shift as voters flocked to polling stations to exercise their franchise in the Lok Sabha elections, marking a departure from the low participation witnessed in previous polls.

Formerly a hotbed of militancy and dominated by foreign terrorists in the 1990s, Sopore and Rafiabad areas experienced a resurgence of electoral engagement with a high voter turnout. Historically plagued by minimal turnout, Baramulla’s significant increase in voter participation this time, is largely due to the acknowledgement that civic engagement and improvement requires active participation rather than passive observation. The recent overtures made by the banned Jamaat-e-Islami on entering electoral politics also contributed to the increase in voter turnout, highlighting the organisation's influence in the region. According to Gazanfar Ali, a retired government servant, "No one can deny that the banned group has an influence. In the past, it used to threaten voters. But, today, nothing of that sort is happening."

Earlier on May 13 in the fourth phase, the Srinagar constituency, recorded 37.99 per cent voting which is also the highest turnout in several decades. Phase 4 had also seen Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency- at around 2,135 polling stations across the Srinagar parliamentary constituency spanning Srinagar, Ganderbal, Pulwama, Budgam & Shopian Districts registering at 38.49% turnout- the highest in many decades. Polling started at 7 am with long queues of enthusiastic voters waiting to cast their votes, with live webcasting at all the polling stations.

According to the EC, the highest polling in this constituency in the last 34 years has been in 1996 when nearly 41 per cent voters used their franchise. In 2019, 14.43 per cent votes polled whereas the figure in previous parliamentary elections stood at 25.86 per cent (2014), 25.55 (2009), 18.57 (2004), 11.93 (1999) and 30.06 per cent (1998).

Incidentally, the J&K voter surge also comes amid targeted killings of an ex Sarpanch and attack on tourists at Anantnag and Shopian areas, that injured a tourist couple from Jaipur. Terrorists struck at two places in Kashmir on the night of May 18, killing Aijaz Sheikh, a former sarpanch affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in Shopian and injuring a tourist couple from Rajasthan in Anantnag. Bids to disrupt peace in Jammu & Kashmir continue amid the ongoing Lok Sabha Polls 2024. Over 5 terror attacks, including IAF convoy attack, have taken place in UT since April, 4 out of which turned out to be fatal.

Taking to ‘X’ JKNC chief Farooq Abdullah and Vice President Omar Abdullah condemned the attacks. National Conference president Farooq Abdullah has asked Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism in the region. . He also called for international pressure to be created on Pakistan for being the epicentre of terrorism.

It must be noted that this is the first general election in the valley after the abrogation of Article 370 and the enactment of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. J&K has been under President's Rule since 19 December 2018. The last assembly election in the erstwhile state was held in November 2014.

Noting that the record voter turnout in Srinagar is one of the "most gratifying things" he has seen in his tenure, PM Modi said that, "Through the abrogation of Article 370, we today have witnessed not just the dreams and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir coming into fruition but also their enthusiasm for participating in one of the biggest festivals in any democracy -elections," in an interview with the PTI.

Planned, consistent and targeted interventions by the Election Commission of India to promote voter awareness has contributed to the noteworthy rise in voter turnout in J&K. Since the date of announcement of the general elections on March 16, Command-and-Control centres have been working 24x7 in Srinagar as well as Jammu to ensure free and fair elections. Polling and security personnel worked tirelessly to ensure that an atmosphere of calm, peace and festivities welcomed voters at the polling stations, the EC added. More than 8,000 polling staff were on duty to cater to the over 17.47 lakh-strong electorate. In order to ensure inclusive voting, polling stations managed by women, specially abled persons and youths were set up. There were 21 green and eco-friendly polling stations. The ECI enabled Kashmiri migrant voters residing at various relief camps in Delhi, Jammu, and Udhampur to also have the option of voting in person at designated special polling stations or using postal ballot.As many as 21 Special Polling Stations were established at Jammu, one at Udhampur and four at Delhi.

“Encouraged” by the high voter turnout in Jammu and Kashmir the Election Commission of India has announced that it will move towards holding assembly polls in the Union Territory at the earliest. Hours after Baramulla parliamentary constituency reported a record turnout, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said, "While I would like to thank the electors of J&K for coming out to vote, they have also sent out a clear message. The people of J&K are eager to exercise their franchise and feel invested in the democratic ethos and system of governance. The poll panel is deeply encouraged by the voter turnout in Lok Sabha polls and will work towards holding assembly polls at the earliest." He added, "The commission is encouraged to go for assembly polls in the Union Territory at the earliest possible. For the same, the process will be initiated soon after parliamentary elections."

The positive change in voting patterns in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir is also due to the several social projects and programs launched by the Indian government with an emphasis to boost the empowerment of the locals and tackle the issues they deal with. These efforts include social welfare programs designed to ensure the well-being of the people, educational assistance, and economic empowerment.

To achieve the objectives of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in J&K, several reform initiatives have been put in place. One of the crucial reforms is “Sashakt Bharat-Sabal Bharat” (The Hindu, 2019). Implementing "Swachh Bharat-Swasth Bharat" has reduced disparities in nutrition, child health, education, sanitation, drinking water, power, and housing, especially among vulnerable communities

GoI has launched an urban renewal and retrofitting program aimed at developing smart cities that are both citizen friendly and sustainable. The government has further established a plan for the regeneration, restoration, protection, and maintenance of J&K's ancient cultural legacy. J&K has been linked to the 'Ek Bharat-Shreshtha Bharat' movement, which promotes a Himalayan culture in other states. After August 5, 2019, 35 projects had been identified, including 18 in Kashmir and 17 in Jammu.

Real-time monitoring of programmatic interventions of SDGs, realization with locally focused results or developmental outcomes are delivering effective results. J&K has done well in attaining the objectives set by the NITI Aayog's SDG India Index 2020–21. The indicators examine performance in health, education, gender, economic development, institutions, climate change, and the environment, among others. This is reflected in the 55.79 per cent voter participation in Jammu and Kashmir. Afterall in the final analysis, adult suffrage is indeed the defining foundation of any democracy. Large voter turnout in former hotbeds of militancy also indicate the creation of stability and overall security in the governance of the union territory.

The voter surge in J&K suggests that democracy is on track there.

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