After leaving the Anantnag seat vacant by succeeding her father as chief minister of state in early 2016, Mehbooba Mufti turned up in her hometown on Tuesday to cast her ballot. But the first phase of the three-phase elections for Anantnag Lok Sabha seat was dominated by boycott mode and deserted booths.
Unlike 2014, today the melodious tunes of Kashmiri women didn’t echo across the narrow lanes of Bijbehara, the hometown of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, on the big voting-day.
Instead, five years down the line, as the restive south of Kashmir underwent parliamentary contest, only a handful of women draped cautiously under their burqa were seen waiting for their ‘lady-leader’ to ink her finger, although evidently, majority having not voted themselves.
As the clock ticked 2:00 in the afternoon, the Peoples Democratic Party’s chief arrived at a deserted polling station amidst a trail of armed men, guarding her all the way to the ballot box; while the women folk, after close to an hour of waiting, chanted discreetly: ‘Mehbooba ji aage badho, hamm tumhare sath hai…’
It was only a matter of minutes until she was out—sporting a wide smile, flaunting her inked finger to the long-waiting media cameras.
However, soon after she left, controversy shaped over a rather peacefully-boycotted election. The same polling station where Mehbooba had cast her vote, was fuelled with violent scuffle between her stationed party-agents and that of the rival outfits’.
Two men were seen physically assaulted-out of the building amidst a sea of abuses by the PDP workers, supported by cane-charging from the CRPF men.
Jammu & Kashmir: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supporters thrash a National Conference (NC) polling agent at Bijbehara polling station of Anantnag district, alleging bogus voting. #LokSabhaElections2019 pic.twitter.com/yay2nDMQlI
— ANI (@ANI) April 23, 2019
Later, as the situation turned easy, one of the men, panting heavily after a rough beating, smartly seated himself nearby the media-persons.
Having identified himself as a National Conference polling agent, he alleged Mehbooba’s workers of ‘tipping the government officers to help them pull off unfair voting’.
Losing out on his breath, he told journalists: “This PDP is playing up their votes under the shadow of these burqa-clad women. They think they’ll get away with it, but they don’t know the kind of man they’ve come across…”
Looking straight into the media lenses, his anger, perhaps, got the better of him as the NC loyalist began hurling abuses in the middle of the byte — thus eventually leading the cameras to be abruptly put down in dismay.
But soon, his odd counterpart from NC, while trying to pull off a rescue act, walked past the cameras in torn-out white shoes. The shutterbugs focused on him, only to be again left disappointed because of his ‘loose comments’.
But thankfully to both the men, a woman, who identified herself as Congress’ Srinagar district vice president, Shamima Mir, joined in just the right time.
“If you people don’t believe us,” she addressed the media, alleging bogus voting by PDP, “please go inside the booth and see for yourself. There’re so many burqa-clad women being allowed to vote without facial identification. The PDP has tampered room no 35-A and 37. And when our men came out to expose them, they were thrashed black-and-blue. We demand immediate halting of votes in this polling station.”
Minutes after the incident, the supporters of Congress and NC barged inside the polling booth and heckled the PDP workers. But then, the chaos was soon sorted by verbal warnings of deployed CRPF and police personnel.
But contrastingly, the other polling booths witnessed comparatively calm voting, obvious credits to the lower turnout.
The entire south Kashmir – especially the Anantnag district – witnessed restricted civilian movement, so much so, that it were the pulled down shutters flashing anti-India graffiti, which majorly stole the road-show.
Barring the uphill areas like Kokernag, Pahalgam, scores of polling stations barely managed to even pull off double-digit attendance.
By the time the day concluded, only 12.86 per cent of votes were polled from across the southern region, with 2.04 recorded in Mufti’s hometown, Bijbehara.
Clearly, as the supposed stronghold—the epicentre of the 2016 protests—snubbed the “democratic process”, chickens indeed came home to roost for Mehbooba Mufti.