EC, MHA at loggerheads over Srinagar turnout

The “miserably low turnout” in Srinagar bypolls has prompted the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to put the blame on Election Commission, claiming it had advised against going ahead with the exercise.

Sources said the MHA had advised the Election Commission against holding the bypolls now in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, warning that the situation was not conducive enough for such an exercise.

They claimed they had conveyed to the Election Commission that there is an atmosphere of fear and that could have an impact on the turnout.

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(Hundreds of protestors stormed a polling station at Pakherpora in Chrar-e-Sharief area)

The voting for Srinagar seat, which took place on Sunday, witnessed unprecedented violence in which at least eight persons were killed.

Only 7.14% of 12.61 lakh voters, the all-time low, ventured out to vote on Sunday while it had recorded 26% polling in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In 1989, National Conference’s Mohammad Shafi Bhat was elected unopposed.

The previous record for the lower turnout was in 1999 when 11.93% polling was recorded. In the 1999 election, Omar Abdullah had defeated Mehbooba Mufti, who is now Chief Minister, in a straight contest.

The security establishment was of the view that people may not dare to come out to vote. The state was also preparing to hold panchayat elections.

Rebutting MHA’s claims, EC sources said it was a Constitutional obligation to hold the election by April 16. The state government was consulted as it was responsible for law and order.

It said the EC was not bound to consult the MHA as it was “only responsible” for provide paramilitary forces.

EC sources said the state had informed about its preparation for a free and fair polls besides upgrading the security of leaders and candidates. “In the assessment of EC, if prevailing conditions were conducive for holding panchayat polls by the state, then holding of Parliamentary elections is also possible,” the sources said.

In a statement, the CPI(M) also said the “miserably low turnout” has reduced the electoral process to a “total farce” and it displayed the “deep degree of alienation” of the people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Acknowledging that country’s internal security and sovereignty is non-negotiable, the CPI(M) Polit Bureau said this could only be strengthened by the involvement of the people.

“This in turn can only happen through a political process which as was agreed to by this BJP government and announced by the Home Minister after the all Party parliamentary delegation visited the state. This process was to be through both confidence building measures and the initiatives for a comprehensive political dialogue with all stakeholders. Though promised, this was never followed up till date by the central government,” it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 11, 2017)

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