Voters queue up to cast their ballots at a polling station during the fourth phase of voting in India’s general election, in Srinagar on May 13, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

SRINAGAR: The biggest city in Indian-administered Kashmir saw its highest voter turnout for a national election in nearly three decades on Monday, election commission figures from the Himalayan region showed, reversing the trend of abysmally low vote counts in the first polls since Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019..

Nearly 36 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the constituency of Srinagar compared to 14.1 percent during the last national election in 2019 and 41 per cent in 1996, according to commission data.

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The turnout in past elections was impacted by boycott calls and threats of militant attacks.

With Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) skipping elections in Kashmir for the first time since 1996 saying it will support regional parties instead, the main players are the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party which have focused on restoration of semi-autonomy in their campaigns.

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Apart from the issue of semi-autonomy, voters also said they were considering soaring prices and joblessness while casting their ballots - running themes among voters across the country.

“There are other issues which people are facing right now, there is poverty, unemployment,” said 50-year-old Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, who voted for the first time in three decades on Monday.

Rafiqa, 56, said she was seeking a change in government since “our children are jobless”, an issue reiterated by first time voter Rabia Akhtar, who said “a change of government” was also the determining factor in her vote.

Bashir Ahmad Lala, 67, who was voting for the first time in two decades, was among those focusing on Modi’s decision to split Jammu and Kashmir into two federally administered territories - a move the prime minister says brought “normalcy” to the region.

“I voted just to get relief from what we are facing here,” he said.

Former Jammu and Kashmir state Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, president of the National Conference party, said Modi “will definitely get defeated” nationally.

The fourth phase of voting for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections ended on Monday in 96 Lok Sabha constituencies across 10 states and Union Territories. A total of 1,717 candidates were in the fray in this phase. 62.9 per cent voter turnout was recorded in phase four across 10 states and union territories.

Prominent candidates

Polling was held in all 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, all 25 seats in Andhra Pradesh, 13 in Uttar Pradesh, five in Bihar, four in Jharkhand, eight in Madhya Pradesh, 11 in Maharashtra, four in Odisha, eight in West Bengal and one in Jammu and Kashmir.

Voting was simultaneously held in all 175 Assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh and 28 in Odisha in the fourth phase. Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim lawmaker from the southern city of Hyderabad, which also voted on Monday, said the BJP had fewer supporters after Modi’s recent comments against minority Muslims.

Telugu film director S. S. Rajamouli and his wife Rama Rajamouli show their ink-marked fingers after casting their votes, in Hyderabad on Monday. Image Credit: ANI

“An individual cannot be bigger than the country. So, Modi is not the country,” he added. Modi has said he does not oppose Muslims and that his government does not discriminate.

More than 1.9 million polling officials were deployed at 192,000 polling stations for the over 177 million eligible voters in this round.

Prominent candidates in the fray are Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Union minister Giriraj Singh, TMC’s firebrand leader Mohua Moitra and AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, former cricketer Yusuf Pathan of TMC, Andhra Pradesh Congress president YS Sharmila among others.

Analysts have raised doubts over whether the BJP and its allies can win the landslide predicted by opinion polls, and said the lower turnout had prompted Modi to change the tack of his campaign after the first phase.

The opposition INDIA alliance got a shot in the arm ahead of Monday’s vote when the Supreme Court gave temporary bail to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been detained in a graft case, allowing him to campaign.

The impact of hot weather on turnout was also being monitored as maximums in parts of the country touched 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) or higher in the past week.

The Lok Sabha elections are being held across seven phases, from April 19 to June 1. The counting is scheduled for June 4.