Eight civilians were killed and more than 170 injured as widespread violence marred the Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election, which recorded the lowest ever turnout of 7.14%.
Rampaging mobs took to streets in scores of places across the Lok Sabha constituency, perpetrating wanton violence and arson, even setting ablaze a polling station and attempting to set on fire two others, amid a boycott called by the separatists.
The Srinagar parliament seat, comprising of 15 Assembly segments spread over three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal, saw only around 80,000 votes being polled out of 12.5 lakh voters, the lowest ever in the past three decades. In 2014, the poll percentage was 26% . “We saw further decline in poll percentage by 20% this time,” said Mr. Shantmanu.
Speaking to the press, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Shantmanu said, “It was not a good day, particularly in Budgam district. We had many incidents of violence in which six civilians lost their lives.”
Shortly after the CEO’s press conference, two people were reported killed in Chadoora area of Budgam district and Barsoo in Ganderbal district in firing by security forces, taking the death toll to eight.
The CEO said a decision on repoll in violence-hit areas will be taken after examining the diaries of presiding officers. “I cannot tell you exactly how many polling stations will go to repolls...it can be anywhere between 50 and 100. It is a wild guess,” he said.
Except for Ganderbal district, both Srinagar and Budgam saw widespread and unprecedented violence for the first time since the 1990s.
According to the Election Commission (EC), there were 200 incidents of stone pelting. Over 100 security personnel and 70 civilians sustained injuries in the clashes in Srinagar and Budgam, said EC officials.
"A polling station was set afire. There were petrol bombs attacks. We had to temporarily close polling on many booths,” said Mr. Shantmanu.
However, independent sources suggested that over 100 civilians were injured in Srinagar and Budgam as clashes continued till late in the evening. In other incidents, security personnel were held hostage inside a polling booth in Bemina after stone-throwing protesters surrounded it.
The volatile downtown area of Srinagar saw very few people at polling booths though there was no violence. However, scores of polling staff were chased away in parts of Srinagar and Budgam, disrupting polls completely. Protesters also attacked staff leaving the polling booths in the evening.
Protesters also attacked polling staff leaving the polling booths in the evening. The volatile downtown area of Srinagar saw very few people at polling booths though there was no violence. However, scores of polling staff were chased away in parts of Srinagar and Budgam, disrupting polls completely.
“Several Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were damaged. However, several EVMs were received back. The EC will take a call on re-polling,” said the CEO.
Budgam, comprising of five Assembly segments, was the epicentre of violence on Sunday, with scores of polling staff members injured and vehicles damaged. Most polling booths wore a deserted look.
“The government failed to provide a conducive atmosphere for polls,” said National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting as the joint candidate for the NC and Congress alliance from Srinagar.
On the other hand, Ganderbal saw largely peaceful polling.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said she was distressed to know that many of those killed were young boys.
The Time has come for all to come together and stop any cycle of senseless bloodshed, which has plagued J&K for three decades now,” said Ms. Mufti.
“We have to understand the intricacy of the issue. Only peaceful means and not violence is the only way ahead for getting the state out of the difficulties.
(with inputs from PTI)