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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Elections in Jammu & Kashmir

The two teams for election monitoring conducted by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) for the third phase of the parliamentary polls on May 5 visited 37 polling stations in the assembly segments of Pulwama, Shopian, Pahalgam, Anantnag, Bijbehara, Homshalibug, Tral and Pampore. The following is an interim report of the finding of the teams.

The teams observed very low voting in most of the booths and the hartal call had an overwhelming response in the two districts of Anantnag and Pulwama. The members of minority communities too boycotted the elections in many parts of the twin districts. Wherever some voting had been recorded, there were complaints of coercion by the security forces.

Kashmiri woman voting at Doda 

Kashmiri woman 
voting at Doda

At Arwani in Bijbehara, as late as 2 pm only one vote had been cast out of 2295 votes. In Bijbehara itself, the home town of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in the polling station No. 22 F one vote out of 1146 had been polled by 2.50 pm. In Tral, there was zero voting in the five booths visited by the team around 2. pm. Only in Divar (No. 20) we found that five votes had been cast.

At Sherabad and Awantipora polling stations in Pulwama, there was nil voting out of 646 and 946 votes respectively by 3 pm. It was only in two booths, namely Bijbehara 18 B and Badroo in Homshalibug that at 2 pm three figure voting had been registered. Of the two, there were serious complaints of force by the security forces in Badroo.

In fact, we heard serious complaints that BSF and the Rashtriya Rifles soldiers had made announcement from mosques and shrines directing people to come out and vote. This was during the two days before the date of polling. And on Wednesday morning, the forces went from door-to-door pulling people out and herding them to the booths. This complaint was repeated in some parts of Pahalgam, Aishmuqam, Kadipora, Badroo, Pinglana, Arhama, Shirmal, Arigam, Pinjoora and Sherabad.

JKLF’s Javed Ahmad Mir being arrested for leading demo against polls at Srinagar

JKLF’s Javed Ahmad Mir being arrested for leading demo against polls at Srinagar

The uniform complaint was that the forces took away the I-cards of people and asked them to collect them only after casting their ballot. At Kadipora Syed Sahib, one Ghulam Nabi Ganai alleged the forces had dragged him out of the mosque while he was offering prayers. At Shirmal, Bashir Ahmed (45), an employee in Public Health Engineering Department, said he was brought out of his home to vote by the troops despite being ill. In the same village, the CCS team noticed a RR trooper taking some youth to the polling station. Not surprisingly then, 29 votes had been polled in the village by 10.40 am. The coercion complaint was even admitted by National Conference agent Mumtaz Ahmed Malik who justified it saying "Army has to bring them otherwise nobody is willing to vote."

Like the previous two phases, electoral irregularities were observed in many parts of Anantnag and Pulwama district. We noticed the presiding officers allowing the people to vote even without producing the I-cards. However, the officers said they were permitting the voters "if they can identify their name, address and age correctly." Though this appears to be done out of "sympathy" it in fact facilitates the coercive tactics that is snatching of the cards by the soldiers.

The CCS teams were intercepted by groups of people at many places who questioned the meaningfulness of the elections in the context of the Kashmir dispute. "We had many elections in the past but the Kashmir issue is lingering. Elections cannot solve our problem," a lecturer in Tral town said. "India and Pakistan must show sincerity to resolve the issue once and for all."

At most places people were angry for they were being forced by the security forces to vote against their will. But at Aishmuqam in Pahalgam, people said: "The BSF which is urging us to vote will go after the polls and the voters will have to face the wrath of the militants who have put posters asking us to boycott the elections."

However, the overwhelming impression we got was of voluntary boycott. We believe that polling would have been even less than the official figure of 16 per cent if the coercion by the armed forces had not been there. In Tral, for instance, there was neither any complaint of threats from militants nor the presence of armed forces and the polling was almost nil.

The CCS reiterates that coercion by the armed forces or acts of violence by the militants such as throwing of grenades at polling stations are not conducive to the free expression of the peoples' will. It is only in the absence of such coercive tactics that the people will be able to express themselves freely.

Report compiled by Parvez Imroz, president, Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society The Bund, Amira Kadal, Srinagar - 190001, J&K 

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