The Congress on Thursday accused the Centre and the erstwhile BJP-PDP government in Jammu and Kashmir of "spoiling" the atmosphere in the state and hold them responsible for the current situation there, where people are "afraid" to cast their vote.
The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who hails from the state, said this was not the first time that voter turnout in municipal polls in the Kashmir Valley has been low compared to that in the Jammu region.
Senior party leader Ambika Soni alleged that the state and central governments are squarely responsible for the current situation and for bringing the state to a level where the "fear of bullet forced people not to cast their vote".
The two leaders claimed the previous Congress-NC government in Jammu and Kashmir had helped normalise the situation and people had been coming out in large numbers to exercise their franchise.
But the erstwhile BJP-PDP government and the Centre has brought the situation to that prevailing in the early 1990s, they alleged.
"The Central government spoiled the entire atmosphere in the Kashmir Valley and took us back to the early nineties.
"So I squarely hold the Centre India responsible for this, for creating a situation where people are afraid to go to the polling stations," Azad told reporters after former PDP MLC Vikramaditya Singh, the son of ex-Union minister Karan Singh, joined the Congress.
The second phase of the municipal polls in the state on Wednesday, saw 78.6 per cent of over 1.28 lakh voters exercising their franchise in Jammu, while in Kashmir region 3.4 per cent of 2.20 lakh electorate cast their votes.
The low voter turnout in Kashmir was in line with a meagre 8.3 per cent turnout in the Valley during the first phase of the election.
Azad said this was not the first time that there was a huge gap between Kashmir and Jammu regions in terms of voter turnout.
"This is not the first time since we had militancy, which has been for almost three decades. In between, of course, things had improved when we were in power. After the BJP and the PDP formed a coalition government, things went from bad to worse.
"So, for this, we shouldn't be held responsible, the Centre and the BJP should be held responsible for worsening the condition of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
On being asked about holding simultaneous polls for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the Lok Sabha, Soni, who is AICC general secretary in-charge of party affairs in the state, said the Congress has fought elections despite tough situations.
"We congratulate all the candidates, but that doesn't change the scenario there... With what face or how are they (BJP) going to convince the people that the law-and-order situation is in full control. We will assess it after this election," she said.
After joining the party, Vikramaditya Singh said he was disillusioned with the PDP as it "failed" to fulfil its promises and "betrayed" the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Vikramaditya Singh had joined the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party (JKPDP) at the instance of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and was nominated as a member of the state Legislative Council in 2015.
He resigned in October last year both as an MLC and from the party, following differences with the coalition government headed by then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Azad said Karan Singh had joined Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet heralding a young generation entering politics and now his son, Vikramaditya Singh, has joined the Congress heralding the entry of the new generation.
"Vikramaditya Singh brings with him a rich political legacy and we hope that he will help weaken the BJP and strengthen the Congress in the Jammu region and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
The PDP-BJP combine had formed a government in the state with promises of reducing distances between people of the Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir regions and ushering in development in the state, but just the opposite has happened, Azad alleged.
"Distances between people of the three regions of the state have risen, unemployment and terrorism have also spiked, while development and tourism went down," the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said.
Vikramaditya Singh said he quit the PDP as "it betrayed the people of Jammu and Kashmir by not fulfilling the promises made to the people, including safety and facilities like making bunkers for them and farmers living along the Indo-Pak border".
Vikramaditya Singh said he was happy that he was in the Congress to which his father belonged and remained a member for over 50 years.
Besides Soni and Azad, Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir was also present at the joining event of Singh.
Earlier, Vikramaditya Singh met Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and formally joined the party his presence.
(With inputs from agencies.)