Fear of Nocturnal Arrests, Hizbul Warnings Grips Locals Ahead of Polls in Pulwama and Shopian
The Lok Sabha constituencies of Shopian and Pulwama continue to be crucial electorates for parties like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), despite the raging militancy in the region.
Security forces in South Kashmir's Anantnag. (File photo)
Pulwama: On the morning of April 30, Faheem Ahmad* got a call from the Pulwama police station, announcing that he was summoned there by evening.
This wasn’t the first time this happened, the call, was almost a routine. A class 12 student living in Murran area, Ahmad had been arrested a number of times in relation with cases of stone pelting in the Valley.
However, tonight, Ahmad wanted to stay home. There was Rogan Josh, a famous mutton dish and also his favourite, for dinner. “I will have dinner at home today and then will report to the police station tomorrow,” he decided. His parents did not have much to say.
The dinner, as delicious as it was, had a sense of deep foreboding. “Faheem was delighted to eat his favourite dish,” says his sister, “But he knew he won’t get to have it again for a long time now.” Wrapped in such disquieting thoughts, the family went to bed.
That night, Ahmad’s house was trespassed by a bunch of ‘armed men’. He knew the police had come looking for him. “The masked policemen grabbed and bundled him into Rakshak (an armoured police vehicle)”, Ahmed's sister tells News18.
Reports and local accounts suggest that like Ahmad, hundreds of others, mostly young and sometimes even minors, have been arrested over the past two weeks.
The districts of Pulwama and Shopian, which are a part of the Anantnag parliamentary constituency, go to the polls on May 6. For the first time in the electoral history of the region, the Election Commission of India (ECI) decided to conduct polls in Anantnag in three phases. The poll panel attributed this to the tensed security situation here.
Pulwama and Shopian, the land of sprawling apple orchards and clear blue skies, are also the hotbed of militancy and violence in Kashmir.
Shailendra Kumar, the Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir tells News18 that conducting polls in these two constituencies is nothing short of a challenge.
The police here says that people associated with incidents of stone pelting and other ‘militancy-related’ cases have been arrested, adding that no minors have been held. It is being done with the aim to conduct ‘violence-free polls,’ the police adds.
In the first two legs of polling, Anantnag recorded a voter turnout of 13 and 10 per cent respectively. The numbers are expected to go down further this time.
“For us the challenge is not the voter turnout. We have to conduct violence-free polls,” a top police official tells News18. When asked about the tirade of arrests, the official said that it was a way to ‘save the youth’ from ‘getting hurt’.
“These youth are habitual stone pelters and they will do same on the day of voting. It is better that we keep them in our custody so that polls are conducted smoothly and they don’t get hurt,” he says. He, too, denied any cases of minors being arrested.
The records produced by the parents of at least four boys arrested during these nocturnal raids, however, suggest that they were minors.
‘You Have been Warned’
The security was stepped up also in the wake of posters issued by the militants of Hizbul Mujahideen asking people to boycott the polls.
In one of the warnings, Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Riyaz Naikoo, said that the people who participated in the elections will face dire consequences.
Admonishing those who are supporting the mainstream political parties, Hizbul Mujahideen said that “We have information that Army might force you to cast votes. But everyone should understand that they need to make a choice. Those who cast vote on the polling day in Shopian will be killed,”
Gun-wielding personnel patrol the 695 polling stations set up for about 5.22 lakh eligible voters. As per officials, all the polling station have been marked as ‘hyper-sensitive’.
Ahead of voting, the winding lanes of Shopian wear a deserted look. With restrictions under Section 144 of the CrPc already imposed on May 3, no assembly or congregation is allowed without prior permission for one month.
The EC has already slashed the poll timings by two hours, on the request of police. The polls which go usually up to 6 PM, will conclude at 4 PM, as authorities fear the movement of poll staff at night.
The fear of getting arrested grips the villages of these districts. Many of those, who felt like they could be held, have already fled their homes in search of safety.
“There are dozens of youth who have fled. They are either living with their relatives in other towns or have gone out of state, only to escape detention,” says Amir Ahmad, a local of Tahab. “The forces coming in the night and swooping youth is scary,” he says.
Test for PDP
Shopian and Pulwama continue to be crucial electorates for parties like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), despite the raging militancy in the region. All the six assembly segments of these two districts—Tral, Pampore, Pulwama, Rajpora, Wachi, Shopian—were won by PDP in the last assembly elections.
In the last two phases of polling in Anantnag, PDP seems to be facing a tough fight from the Congress and National Conference. It will be interesting to see how these two districts, which has given overwhelming support to PDP in the last elections, will respond this time.
*Names have been changed
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