Political parties and other candidates have chosen the social media as their main medium to create awareness about their agenda.
Srinagar: The campaigning for the by-poll to the prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha seat has been a low key affair in the backdrop of the five-month summer agitation last year but political parties and independent candidates have heavily relied on social media to reach out to the electorate.
The constituency, where campaigning ends today for the poll on Sunday, will witness a virtual direct contest between opposition National Conference stalwart Farooq Abdullah and ruling PDP's Nazir Ahmad Khan, although there are seven other candidates in the fray including 25-year-old techie Mehraj Khursheed Malik and Chetan Sharma of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasbha.
With the fear of the gun and boycott call by separatists looming large, political parties and other candidates have chosen the social media as their main medium for wooing the electorate and create awareness about their agenda.
Aijaz Jan, who handles the social media campaign of National Conference, said social media was a better way of connecting with the younger generation.
"Around 90 per cent of youngsters use social media like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. It is a better way to connect with them. We get a feed back also through such media.
"Some agree with us, some disagree. That is part of democracy. It is the best way to engage with the youth," he said. Malik, who claims to have quit a job with an MNC in Bengaluru to jump into electoral politics, bemoans the lack of time for proper campaigning.
"I have been using WhatsApp and Facebook to reach out to the electorate as there was very little time given for campaigning," he said.
Malik justified joining the electoral fray by saying that growing discontent among the youth "clearly indicates failure of successive governments and political parties in addressing the concerns of the younger generation. Somebody had to rise."
Maintaining that he had an uphill task to "convince" the youth, Malik said after engaging with them, "many agreed with my point of view and many others agreed to disagree".
He claimed that his decision to "stand up for the people" was inspired by the teachings of Islam, life of Gautam Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
The election campaign for Srinagar by-poll did not witness any major rallies, except for a few held by former chief minister Abdullah in Ganderbal, Kangan and Beerwah areas of the constituency.
"While I have to make use of the social media as youth is connected with technology, I still went around my constituency holding rallies and meetings. "After all, I am a traditional politician who belongs to the old school," he said.
Abdullah is the joint candidate of National Conference and Congress for the Srinagar seat under an agreement in which the regional party has extended support to PCC president G A Mir in the south Kashmir constituency going to polls on April 12.
While the ruling PDP has also extensively used the social media to reach out to the electorate, its candidate Nazir Ahmad Khan has depended more on holding meetings with smaller groups of people in Srinagar district.
"I held hall meetings, meeting with workers and went for door-to-door campaigning. It was a strenuous process but I had a chance of reaching out to more people," he said.
Waheed Para, the youth president of the party and incharge of social media campaign, said 60 per cent of the state's population belongs to the younger generation which uses social media as a medium of expression.
"We have used the social media to reach out and communicate with the younger generation," he said, noting that the young people were following the PDP campaign and social media gives them the option of "listening to us and then agree or disagree. It is better than addressing a rally".
"You either use the social media or the social media uses you," he said. Chetan Sharma, who had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Srinagar and got 650 votes, said he was using the polls to impress upon the international community that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
"There is a fear in the air (in Kashmir) but my standing in the election is a message to the international community that Kashmir is part of India. "I have been raising the issue of unemployment which is the major problem of Kashmir," Sharma said.
He said that while he has been using social media, his campaign has stressed more on "meeting people individually". More than 11.72 lakh voters spread across three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal are eligible to exercise their franchise at over 1500 polling stations this Sunday.
The by-poll was necessitated by the resignation of then PDP leader Tariq Hameed Karra from the Lok Sabha in September last year to protest the alleged "atrocities" by security forces during the summer unrest triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter in July last year.
Karra, who recently joined the Congress, had defeated Abdullah three years ago but is now supporting the National Conference president following the agreement between the two parties.
The voter turnout in 2014 polls was 26 per cent in Srinagar constituency, slightly better than 25.55 per cent recorded in 2009.