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Leaders of Kashmir Civic Body Are Holed up in Hotels as They Fear Militants Will Pump Bullets into Them

News18 reached out to a few of these elected representatives, who shared their experiences on the condition of anonymity.

Aakash Hassan | News18.com@Aakashhassan

Updated:March 11, 2019, 7:37 PM IST
Leaders of Kashmir Civic Body Are Holed up in Hotels as They Fear Militants Will Pump Bullets into Them
Representative image.

Srinagar: Citing security reasons, the Election Commission of India (EC) on Sunday announced that assembly elections will not be held in Jammu & Kashmir with the Lok Sabha elections. This is the first time in two decades that the Assembly polls in the state will not be held as per schedule.

The development comes days after political parties in the Valley made an appeal to the EC to conduct assembly elections together with the general elections. The EC’s decision to not hold simultaneous state and Parliamentary elections in the state came in for a lot of flak, with almost all political parties in the state, except the BJP, opposing it.

However, the disappointment of political leaders aside, one cannot ignore the fact that Kashmir Valley grapples with an ongoing crisis of security threats and electoral disruptions fuelled by militancy in the state.

Sample this: for nearly two years, the EC has been unable to hold bypolls for the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency due to the highly tense law and order situation in the area. The single-digit voter turnout during the Srinagar Lok Sabha polls, which turned violent and claimed the lives of eight civilians further contributed to the prevailing tensions in Anantnag, where the bypolls were held shortly after.

The municipal elections were held in the state in October last year, while the Panchayat polls were held in December. In both the cases, votes were polled in single digits at some places in the Kashmir valley; at many others, candidates were elected unopposed without any voting. One hundred and forty three candidates won the municipal elections uncontested, the official data reveals; out of them, 130 were in Kashmir. Similarly, in the panchayat polls the members in the three districts of Kashmir division – Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama – were elected unopposed.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Sunday said that it was not just a question of law and order but the Commission also had to account for the security of the candidates.

“By the way, many candidates of earlier panchayat elections are still staying in the guest houses paid for by the state government,” he said, referring to the dozens of elected municipal and panchayat representatives who continue to remain confined there due to security threats.

In the past, militants have killed several panchayat members in the state, with many threatening to “pour acid in the eyes of the contestants”.

In fact, before going to the polls, the state administration had said that they have kept 300 hotel rooms in Srinagar for candidates who want to stay under security and have made similar arrangements in all districts of South Kashmir and North Kashmir, as well.

News18 reached out to a few of these elected representatives, who shared their experiences on the condition of anonymity.

Shabir Ahmad (name changed), a corporator from south Kashmir has been living in a hotel since the announcement of the polls.

“Since I submitted my documents for the elections, I am living in a hotel room which I share with another corporator,” Shabir told News18.

Even on the day of elections, he was staying in the same room because he won uncontested.

“I seldom visit my home,” he said, counting the number of times he visited his home. “There is danger in our area. If the militants find me, they will pump bullets in my body,” he said.

He receives a monthly salary of Rs 6,000. “I smoke cigarettes worth my salary in a month,” said Shabir laughing at his situation. To earn a living, he now operates a small dry-fruit business in the city that involves travelling between Srinagar and Jammu. “I am struggling for my needs. I used to believe that contesting elections would make me a big man. I will have security and a government car, but this is the only thing I have,” he said, as he pointed at the ceiling of his hotel room.

The state administration and police refused to reveal the number of candidates who are still putting up in these accommodations citing “security reasons”, but admitted, “a lot of candidates are living under government protection”.

It is impossible for the state to guard every person, a top official revealed, explaining why the representatives are being holed up in these locations. The hotels, where they are put up, are guarded by a few policemen and even while the standard of life may not be good here, people, like Shabir, still consider themselves lucky.

Many elected members who are struggling to get government accommodation end up living either with their relatives or in rented rooms.

Rayees Ahmad (name changed), a Sarpanch from a village in Pulwama, is living in a rented room in Srinagar at Rs 5,000 per month. “I have been requesting the government to provide me accommodation but I haven’t got it yet,” he told News18.

Sarpanchs in the state are paid a monthly honorarium of Rs 2,500, but Rayees is yet to receive his share.

He now works as a salesman at a local shop in the city.

“I haven’t told anyone at my workplace that I am a Sarpanch. They won’t give me work,” he said. Despite having family-owned apple orchards to look after back home, Rayees is reluctant to go back. “I have spent only a few nights at home. It is not only the militant threat, but people in my village look at me as an outcast,” he said.

If the situation remains unchanged, Raees said he will resign from his post. “It is better to work in my orchard along with my father then,” he said.

The Panchs and Sarpanchs hardly appear in the villages of south Kashmir, which remains gripped by militancy.

The mainstream political parties haven’t been able to hold any major public rally in south Kashmir, since the killing of Burhan Wani, Hizbul Mujahideen commander, in July 2016.

Lately, politicians, including former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, started making appearances in south Kashmir visiting the families of militants. However, after the dastardly Pulwama terror attack of February 14, in the backdrop of which the elections will be held this year, the valley once again finds itself in the grip of fear.

| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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