Lok Sabha Polls 2019: J&K’s Srinagar Records 14.1% Dismal Turnout

The second phase of Lok Sabha elections were held on Thursday wherein Jammu and Kashmir’s Srinagar recorded a dismal turnout of 14.1%. This shows the resistance and indifferences between of people towards elections. 

It was double the bypolls of 2017 which had the voter turnout of 7.1%. Also, there was steep drop from the 25% record of 2014 polls. 

The prevailing disenchantment from the right to franchise is largely attributed to the violence that broke out two years ago on polling day, claiming the lives of eight civilians.

While polling is being conducted in five phases in Jammu and Kashmir, which has six Lok Sabha seats, Srinagar and Udhampur cast their votes on Thursday in the second phase.

Despite the political parties campaigning on contentious issues like ‘saving the special status’ of the state, most voters turned their back towards the polling booths. 1, 81,843 votes, that is 14.1 per cent, were polled in the Srinagar parliamentary segment, which includes three districts—Srinagar, Budgam and Gandebal. The highest turnout was recorded in Ganderbal at 16.75%, while Srinagar remained at the lowest with 7.69%.

Why didn’t Srinagar come out to vote?

According to Gowhar Geelani, a senior journalist and political commentator of the Valley, the unpromising turnout is not astonishing, considering the current political climate in the state.

“The low voter turnout in Srinagar is a telling remark of the failure of politicians who, despite their pro-autonomy and pro-people narrative, after the breakup of PDP-BJP coalition government in 2018, have once again failed to attract people to the polling stations,” he said.

Geelani added that Delhi’s “muscular and militaristic Kashmir policy has proved counterproductive on multiple counts,” and is essentially the reason behind the mass poll boycott.

“Despite the massive crackdown on Hurriyat, the ban imposed on pro-independence JKLF and Jamaat-e-Islami, the arrests of 400 members and sympathizers of JeI and the NIA raids — nothing seems to have worked for the government,” Geelani said.

With the killing of Burhan Wani, the Valley witnessed a resurgence of militancy in the summer of 2016, with scores of youth picking the guns. These tensions have once again heightened, with the banning of Jama’at-e-Islami and JKLF, besides the jailing of secessionists, which the people feel has been done to create a mood for the elections.

In such a backdrop, parties have failed to cut ice with people through their passionate campaigns on the looming threat to Article 370 and 35A, which vests special status to J&K.

PDP, which headed the last government with the BJP at the time when violence hit new levels in Kashmir, is of the opinion that people in Kashmir are in a “continuous state of mourning.”

“Things are not moving. Workers of political parties are not participating in the poll process actively. We were expecting better turnout,” said PDP leader, Waheed-ur-Rahmaan Parra. “The results in parliamentary elections are usually less than that of assembly elections, but never as low as what Srinagar witnessed,” he added.

He feels that the south Kashmir seat, which is seen as a major challenge owing to the restive situation in the region, will also remain unresponsive. “It is not a good sign,” he said.

However, for the National Conference (NC), PDP is to be blamed for the electoral dormancy in the region. “The results should’ve been better, but people have lost faith. They are scared because when they gave the mandate to PDP last time, the party got BJP in fray,” said NC leader Nasir Aslam Wani. “People are alienated because of what PDP did, they don’t want to repose faith in the same process,” he added.

Low voter turnout was recorded in downtown Srinagar and is not surprising, since the area is the hub of protests against the government. The areas of Budgam which used to record good voter percentage, but witnessed killings in the last elections, stayed away from polls this time. Even political parties refrained from camping vociferously in these area and as for the people, they feel that voting again would be akin to “betraying the slain”.

In Srinagar, the Congress has supported NC candidate, Farooq Abdullah, the veteran politician of the state. Abdullah seems to be the potential winner, with the strong base of his party in the area. Meanwhile, voter turnout might not be impressive, but for the Election Commission, it was a good day owing to the overall peaceful situation. “The voter turnout is not that impressive but the polls remained peaceful. That is a big achievement,” J&K’s Chief Election Officer, Shailendra Kumar told. 

Election Commission Calls A Meeting With Revenue Secretary, CBDT Chairman To Discuss I-T Raids

The Election Commission has called a meeting with revenue secretary AB Pandey and chairman PC Mody, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on Tuesday to discuss ongoing income tax raids.

This comes amid allegations by the Congress that the ruling BJP was using enforcement agencies to target it during the poll season.

The EC had on Sunday “strongly advised” the Finance Ministry that any action by its enforcement agencies during election time should be “neutral” and “non-discriminatory” and officials of the poll panel should be kept in loop about such actions.

The EC’s advice had come against the backdrop of Income Tax Department’s raids in Madhya Pradesh Sunday and in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the recent past on politicians and people connected to them. Since the Model Code Conduct came into force on March 10, the I-T Department has carried out several raids on political leaders and their associates which the opposition has dubbed a misuse of central agencies during poll season.

The Income-Tax Department Monday said it has detected a “widespread and well-organised” racket of collection of unaccounted cash of about Rs 281 crore during raids against close aides of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath and others.

It said sleuths have recovered Rs 14.6 crore of “unaccounted” cash and seized diaries and computer files of suspect payments made between Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.  The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said the department has also detected a trail of Rs 20 crore suspect cash allegedly being moved to the “headquarters of a major political party in Delhi” from the house of an important person who lives on Tughlaq Road, home to many VIPs.

BJP Secures ‘Grand Alliance’ With Parties In Northeast Prior To Lok Sabha Polls 2019

After significant deliberations on Tuesday between the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies in the northeast have led to the formation of a ‘grand alliance’. 

BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav announced the development on his Facebook page early on Wednesday morning claiming that the alliance has the potential to win at least 22 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the northeast.

In another development, after parting ways two months ago in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) forged a pre-poll alliance with the BJP late on Tuesday night.

“While the opposition is still talking and talking about ‘Mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance), we already have ours in place in the northeast and the rest of the country,” Madhav wrote.

Madhav held meetings in Dimapur and Guwahati with chief ministers of BJP-led governments Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and the heads of coalition governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya before sealing the deals.

While Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) heads the government in Nagaland, National People’s Party (NPP) is the majority partner in Meghalaya.

Besides chief ministers Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam), Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland), Conrad Sangma (Meghalaya), N. Biren Singh (Manipur), Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh), senior Assam minister and convenor of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) Himanta Biswa Sarma was also present in several of the meetings.

Leaders from Bodo People’s Front (BPF), BJP’s coalition partner in Assam and AGP were also part of some deliberations.

“The BJP, NPP, NDPP, AGP and BPF will fight together in Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh with the mission of defeating Congress party in the hustings,” Madhav wrote.

The BJP leader also stated that the party would fight the election together with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), its coalition partner in Tripura and will contest from Sikkim in partnership with the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, the main opposition party in the state.

“This alliance has the potential of winning not less than 22 out of the 25 seats in the region and playing an important role in seeing Modiji as the PM once again,” he wrote.

No details are yet available on how many of their own candidates will BJP field in the region. Assam has 14 seats, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh has two seats each and Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim have one seat each.

For Assam, despite several senior leaders of the state unit denying possibility of any tie-up with AGP, the BJP high command decided to forge an alliance with the regional partner once again.

Of the total 14 seats, AGP is expected to field candidates in 2-3 seats, while BJP will give tickets to its candidates on 10 seats. BPF has already announced Assam minister Pramila Rani Brahma as the alliance’s candidate for the Kokrajhar seat.

AAP, TMC Objects Ramzan Cononciding With Election Schedule, EC Dismisses Claim

Replying to the objections raised by Trinamool and Aam Aadmi Party against the Lok Sabha election schedule coinciding with Ramzan, the Election Commission said on Monday that it was impossible to exclude this fasting month of Muslims from the election period as it goes on for a month. 

“During Ramzan, polls are conducted as full month cannot be excluded. However, date of main festivals and Fridays are avoided for poll days,” said an EC official.

The polls will be held from April 11 to May 19, followed by counting on May 23, while Ramzan is expected to commence either on May 5 or 6, depending on sighting of the moon. It lasts about 29 days. 

Leaders of TMC and AAP have claimed that polls during the holy month will inconvenience fasting Muslims, largely seen to be backing the opposition parties, and help the ruling BJP. 

An EC official said reaching a polling booth, queuing up and voting takes only a little effort and time, since polling stations are located near one’s place of residence. Also, the polling day is usually a holiday, at least in government offices and institutions. It is also not unusual for Muslims to carry on with their normal routine during Ramzan.

TMC leader and Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim, questioning the Ramzan overlap and the seven-phase schedule for UP, Bihar and Bengal, contended, “BJP doesn’t want minorities to cast their votes. Minority population in these three states is quite high. But we aren’t worried. People are committed to ‘BJP hatao, desh bachao!” 

AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh also termed the schedule unfair. “How will Muslims participate in big numbers while they will be on fast. Does EC even lack this much of common sense,” he bluntly asked. 

The elections will run from April 11 till May 19, while Ramzan is expected to begin either on May 5 or 6.

Election Commission To Keep An Eye Social Media Campaigns Of Parties, Candidates

The Election Commission will closely monitor the social media campaigns of political parties and candidates in the upcoming election for any faulty content regarding the electoral process or aiming to disturb peace, tranquility and harmony. 

It is for the first time that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google have willingly confirmed to work with the EC. 

The three US-based companies had made a written commitment to EC during consultations with the latter’s committee that reviewed Section 126 of Representation of the People Act last year, to help the poll panel regulate political campaigns on their platforms that are objectionable or in violation of the model code of conduct and laws of the country. 

As per the commitment, the details of which are to be worked out by Internet and Mobile Association of India, social media companies or “intermediaries” have already started awareness campaigns for their users, highlighting the activities of EC in this regard. These campaigns cover unlawful conduct during election, particularly during the 48-hour silence period prior to conclusion of polling.

 

All the social media platforms have agreed to establish priority channels for EC for quick response. They have taken specific measures to appoint grievance officers for the upcoming election. The EC, through the media certification and monitoring committee, will work with the social media companies to flag objectionable content to their grievance officers, who will then pull them down within a given timeline. 

The platforms will also deploy appropriate fact checkers to scan fake news and abuse on their timeline.

The social media companies, incidentally, are already taking actions against fake accounts, spam etc. 

Political advertising on social media will be made more transparent, with advertisement being clearly labelled as so. Besides, each of these platforms has created a mechanism to accept only pre-certified political advertisements during the elections and will share the expenditure incurred on this account with the election authorities for the purposes of accounting. 

EC as part its guidelines on use of social media by parties and candidates, requires candidates to furnish details of their social media accounts. Also, social media being part of electronic media, it needs to have all political advertisements pre-certified by the media certification and monitoring committee. 

Candidates need to account for expenditure on social media advertising. Besides all provisions of model code of conduct apply to content posted on social media. 

DMK To Contest In 20 LS Seats In Tamil Nadu, Allies To Stand For 19 Seats In The State, One In Puducherry

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party will contest in 20 seats in Tamil Nadu. Its allies will fight for 19 constituencies the state and one in Puducherry in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

At the end of seat-sharing talks with allies at the party headquarters on Tuesday morning, DMK president M.K. Stalin said the Congress would contest in 10 seats, including Puducherry; the CPI, the CPI(M) and the VCK in two each; and the MDMK, the IUML, the IJK and the KMDK in one each. The MDMK has also been given one Rajya Sabha seat.

Mr. Stalin expressed the DMK’s inability to accommodate Manithaneya Makkal Katchi in the alliance, but sought its support, promising to include it in future alliances.

Panel to hold talks on constituencies

A committee led by DMK treasurer Duraimurugan would hold talks with leaders of the alliance from March 7 to finalise the constituencies, Mr. Stalin said, adding that he would definitely share the dais with Congress president Rahul Gandhi at an election meeting organised by that party on March 13. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.S. Azhagiri has invited him for the meeting, he pointed out.

Mr. Stalin said that after the third round of satisfactory talks, MDMK general secretary Vaiko signed an agreement with him. The MDMK would work for the DMK in by-elections to 21 Assembly constituencies.