The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No to violence and vote

Srinagar/New Delhi, April 26: Blood did not flow in Srinagar, which voted today. If that is a sign of the peace dividend on which the Vajpayee government has been campaigning, it should be happy.

Just as India Shining does not appear to have had an impact, if exit polls are to be believed, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace moves with Pakistan have not strengthened Kashmir’s fragile faith in Delhi’s democratic process. Polling in Srinagar constituency, where Omar Abdullah is a candidate, was only 21 per cent.

“What feel-good' In this state, feel-good stops at Jammu. Beyond that, it is a daily struggle to stay alive,” retorted an official impatiently.

The poll percentage was lower even than the 25 per cent in the Assembly elections of 2002, though central officials took comfort in the fact that in the 1999 parliamentary battle, it was 16 per cent. That election had, however, been widely described as a sham.

It is still seen as such. “The election is a sham, how can you have an election in a disputed territory'” Aziz Iron, who works in the state education department and was manning a polling booth, told Reuters.

“Nobody is going to come, nobody wants to go into the clutches of death,” he said.

In urban areas of the constituency, voting was zero to very low, but in rural segments, long queues were seen in places.

“We want to have somebody who can solve our problems, we have many grievances. Why should we give this up also'” said Nazir Ahmed, a shopkeeper waiting to vote.

Not voting in elections has traditionally been a part of Kashmir’s struggle, particularly in urban areas of the Valley where it is very easy to be identified, said an official. With separatists calling a bandh, and shops and other establishments remaining shut, it was even easier to be spotted as a voter.

This is one reason, he said, why the voting percentage — like last time — did not top even 1 per cent in downtown Habba Kadal. It was in single digit elsewhere in Srinagar city too.

Most residents stayed at home. “We will not vote. These elections have so far failed to restore normality in Kashmir. The issue should be resolved peacefully,” said Mohammad Ramzan.

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