With the parliamentary polls for Srinagar seat just 24 hours away, seething anger and palpable fear is gripping the constituency.
Militant threats, separatists’ poll boycott call and massive police crackdown on separatists and their supporters have created an eerie atmosphere. Militants already struck at two poll rallies of National Conference on Sunday with blasts, injuring scores.
Purported posters of indigenous militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen in the city has warned mainstream leaders and their supporters to “stay away from polls”.
“Kashmir is at such a juncture of history where militants have to adopt offensive mode. Some of our Kashmir brothers are misled by government of India and are weakening the ongoing movement,” read the Hizb poster, while warning ruling National Conference (NC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders and supporters.
Just a day after such posters emerged in the old parts of the Srinagar city, a major operation of the police is underway to arrest “mischief-mongers” to avoid Anantnag-like situation, where stone-throwers, who raised anti-India slogans, disrupted polls, pushing the poll percentage to only 28 percent on April 24.
A police spokesman of Srinagar’s Zonal Headquarters said, “Nobody will be allowed to disrupt the electoral process. Several arrests have been made to instil confidence among the voters. No attempt will be allowed to intimidate the people by resorting to violence against those who want to exercise their franchise.”
The police around 500 “mischief mongers” have been taken into preventive custody. “To ensure peaceful and violence-free polling, around 400 stone-throwers and trouble mongers have been arrested in central Kashmir. Around 60 more were picked up in north Kashmir,” said the police spokesman.
Dozens of youth were arrested in nocturnal raids in the city, triggering tension and fear among the families. “My son was sleeping when a police party entered our house and arrested my son. He has not been part of any protest for a long time now,” said a father of a stone-thrower on the condition of anonymity.
The police have also stepped up operation against separatist leaders. Most moderate and hardline separatists have been picked up from Srinagar and adjoining areas.
“Srinagar city has been turned into a garrison on the eve of so-called elections,” alleged moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
“The action of the authorities is highly suppressive and tyrannical. The arrests have completely exposed the anti-people agenda of the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, chief minister Omar Abdullah expressed helplessness over the drive. “Due to the code of conduct, our government has nothing to do with these arrests. Our government has nothing to do with these arrests,” said Abdullah.
Srinagar, which has around 12 lakh electorate, will cast votes on April 30. The main contest remains between NC’s Farooq Abdullah and PDP’s Tariq Hameed Karra.
Separatism runs deep in several parts of Srinagar and many localities remain separatists bastions.