BARAMULLA: Protesters and police clashed but streets were otherwise largely deserted Wednesday in the final day of voting in Indian-administered Kashmir for the national election, as boycott calls and fears of violence kept many voters away.
Turnout in the Kashmir Valley constituency voting was about 30 per cent two hours before polls closed.
Police fired tear gas at a crowd calling for a boycott of the election in the town of Baramulla where resentment against Indian rule of the region runs deep, an AFP correspondent said.
“These elections give these (Indian) forces the right to humiliate us, kill us and work against us. That is why I protest,” said Nazir Ahmed, who works on an orchard, in Baramulla.
A grenade exploded at a polling station outside the town but no one was injured, a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Turnout across the entire Kashmir Valley in the 2009 election was 30 per cent and many fear this year could be worse after separatist rebels shot dead several local officials in a warning to residents against voting.
Turnout in the previous two days of balloting elsewhere in the valley was 25.6 per cent and 28 per cent.
India has long struggled to bring Muslim-majority Kashmir into the mainstream election process, and past polls have also been marred by violence and low turnout.
Hindu nationalist hardliner Narendra Modi and his opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which takes a strong stance on national security issues including Kashmir, are set to win the national election after a decade of Congress party rule.
Thousands of extra soldiers and police, along with sniffer dogs to detect explosives, were on patrol in Kashmir, while officials have said some 600 “miscreants” were rounded up ahead of voting to prevent violent protests.
Although streets were deserted in the towns, voters turned out in villages elsewhere in Baramulla constituency, where some hold out hope that a new government could bring much-needed development.
“I know about the boycott called by separatists, but they are not the ones who can help us get roads and good water supply,” said 70-year-old Abdul Ahad, a resident of Panzinara village, after casting his vote.
“We need people to talk about us where it matters.”
A resident of Dangerpora village said as he waited to vote: “We will not achieve anything by fighting. All issues can be solved if we have peace.”
About a dozen rebel groups have since 1989 been fighting Indian forces, either for independence or for merger of the territory with neighbouring Pakistan.
The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, most of them civilians.
Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan soon after the two countries, who both claim the Himalayan region in full, gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Along with Baramulla, the mainly Buddhist area of Ladakh high in the Himalayas of the Kashmir region was also voting on Wednesday.
Some 64 seats throughout the country were up for grabs in the penultimate stage of the election, which wraps up on May 12 with results announced four days later.