A day after clashes between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi slammed Mamata Banerjee and her party, comparing the violence in the state during the panchayat polls to that in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a conversation with CNN-News18, Modi said:
“When you say terror, violence, you think of Kashmir. But during panchayat polls in the same Kashmir, there was no incidence of violence in even one polling booth. But at the same time, in West Bengal, scores of people were killed during the panchayat poll violence.”
It is true that the nine-phased panchayat polls in Jammu and Kashmir, which concluded in December 2018, barely saw any poll-related violence. But there are a number of factors at play behind this.
Low Voter Turnout
For one, the voter turnout recorded was one of the lowest ever. Although on paper the turnout stood at almost 74 percent, this does not represent the on-ground reality, since polling was not held in many areas owing to various factors.
According to an article in Scroll.in which quotes electoral data, only 30 percent sarpanch halqas even saw polling, since several panchayats had either one or even no candidate.
"For instance, if there are 1,000 polling stations in an area, there was zero polling in 600, 10 votes in another 200 polling stations and 30 in another 200. It was one of the lowest turnouts ever,” senior journalist Ahmed Ali Fayyaz told The Quint.
“Also, many wards were unrepresented in the panchayat polls. They did not even have any candidates in the fray," he added.
Journalist Jehangir Ali concurred with Fayyaz's view, adding that the on-ground reality painted a different picture as far as the panchayat polls are concerned.
Speaking to The Quint, he said:
“During the panchayat polls, there were some wards where the candidate won by his own vote since nobody else cast their vote. Many other seats went unopposed. So while the government has claimed that they have held panchayat polls, if you go into the figures and see the turnout of the people and the number of seats unopposed then you get the real picture.”
Secondly, there was a widespread crackdown in the state ahead of the panchayat polls, which saw scores of people put behind bars.
"Ahead of the polls, there was a widespread crackdown in the state, with the forces putting nearly 700-800 people, including teenaged boys, behind bars, as a preemptive measure," Ali told The Quint.
However, this crackdown also translated into a low turnout, with people expressing their displeasure and anger against these arrests.
Threats And Boycott Calls
Apart from this, there are threats issued by militants and boycott calls from separatists that act as a deterrent, added Fayyaz.
“Ahead of the polls, in August, Hizbul Commander Riyaz Naikoo warned against the elections and threatened people against filing nominations or even against participating in the poll,” he said. However, no abductions or violence was reported in the run-up to the elections, he added.
In fact, while most of the elected representatives have returned to their sarpanch halqas, some continue to stay in Srinagar under protection.
“Most of the sarpanch have returned to their panchayats, but some of them are in protection in Srinagar, either in hotels or elsewhere.”Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
However, threat calls do not always deter people from turning up to vote, said Ali. "If you look at 2014 polls, there was 72 percent turnout. Despite threats to stay away, despite boycott calls, people came out and voted. This time it didn’t happen because there was genuine anger. People have lost faith in the electoral process," he said.