Thousands of security personnel were deployed for the second phase of assembly election on Tuesday in nine constituencies in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and an equal number in the Jammu region, a so-called BJP bastion.
All eyes are trained on this phase after the first one on November 25 logged a record turnout of over 70%, the highest since Independence for a state that has suffered over three decades of militancy and strife.
The security ring has been further tightened following the killing of a National Conference sarpanch in Shopian on Sunday and a grenade attack in the heart of Srinagar last week.
Apart from the deployment of 220 companies of paramilitary personnel, more were kept on standby, a top police officer said.
He said the security grid is ready to foil any attempt by militants to disrupt the democratic process in which as many as 17,015 Kashmiri Pandits would be part of over 15 lakh voters.
The state’s two prominent regional parties, the ruling National Conference (NC) that is saddled with an anti-incumbency wave and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which is aiming to regain power, hoped to see people forming long lines to cast their votes for keeping a resurgent BJP at bay — in the Valley at least.
Though the fate of 175 candidates is at stake, the focus will be on separatist-turned-politician Sajjad Gani Lone at Handwara constituency and the lone woman in chief minister’s Omar Abdullah ministry, Sakina Itoo, who is seeking re-election from Noorabad.
People’s Conference leader Lone, whose father Abdul Gani was a three-time MLA for Handwara, is making his debut in assembly election after unsuccessfully contesting the Lok Sabha poll in 2009. He has been accused of a tacit understanding with the BJP following his November 10 meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom the former separatist leader described as an “elder brother”.
The BJP hasn’t fielded a candidate from his constituency and Lone sees himself as a possible CM candidate if the poll results throw up a fracture mandate.
Round II of the poll will be a test for Itoo as well as assembly deputy speaker Sartaj Madni of the PDP and three other ministers. Itoo was the NC’s face-saver during the previous poll in the PDP stronghold of south Kashmir, where the opposition party has 12 MLAs.