Srinagar/Guwahati/Jaipur/Bengaluru: Eight people were killed in firing by security forces as unprecedented election-day violence marred the bypoll for Srinagar Lok Sabha seat of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday which saw voter turnout plunge to an all-time low of 7.14%.
Bypolls for four seats in three other states—Assam, Rajasthan and Karnataka—went off largely peacefully.
Rampaging mobs took to streets in scores of places across the constituency straddling Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts, indulging in violence and arson. Protesters set ablaze a polling station and attempted to torch two others amid a boycott called by separatists.
“The tentative voter turnout for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is 6.5%," Jammu and Kashmir’s chief electoral officer Shantmanu had told reporters at the conclusion of polling. The seat had recorded 26% polling in the 2014 general elections.
The previous lowest turnout in the prestigious seat was 11.93% in 1999 when Omar Abdullah defeated Mehbooba Mufti.
Former chief minister and National Conference stalwart Farooq Abdullah, who lost the seat in 2014, is locked in a straight fight with ruling PDP’s Nazir Ahmad Khan. There are seven other candidates in the fray.
“There were more than 200 incidents of violence in the constituency, mostly in Budgam district, which included stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks, setting ablaze of a polling station, some vehicles and attempt to burn two other polling stations," Shantmanu said. “It was not a good day as you know. Six lives were lost in these incidents of violence... 17 civilians were injured, while over 100 paramilitary and police personnel also sustained injuries," he said. Shortly thereafter, 17-year-old Amir Manzoor was killed when security personnel fired at a stone-pelting mob in Chadoora area of the constituency, taking the death toll to seven.
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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.
While two people each were killed Pakherpora in Chrar-e-Sharief and Beerwah areas of Budgam district, two more deaths were reported from Chadoora area of the same district and another in Magam town, known as the gateway to Gulmarg.
Almost 70% of the polling booths in Budgam district were abandoned by polling staff due to violent protests in several areas, officials said. The Army was called out to help security forces quell a mob which threw stones and hurled petrol bombs to set a polling booth ablaze in the Ganderbal district of the constituency.
Meanwhile, around 67% polling was registered in the by-election to Dhemaji Assembly constituency of Assam, much lower than the turnout of the Assembly poll held last year.
Over 80% turnout was witnessed in the polling for the Dholpur Assembly constituency in Rajasthan, where the ruling BJP is engaged in a fierce fight with opposition Congress and a dozen independent candidates.
Nanjangud and Gundlupet in South Karnataka recorded a high turnout of around 76% and 78% respectively in hotly contested by-elections between the ruling Congress and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Chief minister Siddaramaiah and almost his entire cabinet have been camping in Nanjangud and Gundlupet for over a week, while state BJP president B.S. Yeddyurappa and senior leaders from the party have been heading the BJP campaign.
Mint’s Sharan Poovana contributed to this story.