Jammu and Kashmir holds security meet ahead of elections, will get army’s help
A security plan devised for the eight-phased Panchayat by-polls in Jammu and Kashmir next month will involve the deployment of the army as well, officials aware of the matter said.
The by-elections to over vacant 11,000 Panchayat seats are the second such electoral exercise since the region was stripped of its special status with the nullification of the Constitution’s Article 370 and the incarceration of hundreds of politicians and activists in August.
The officials cited above said a security review meeting for the by-polls was held. They added that it was decided at the meeting that the army, in particular, will be involved in area dominance during nights in the run-up to the polls.
The officials said additional security checkpoints will also be set up ahead of the polls as part of the plan while security to the candidates will be provided as per the threat perception. They added South Kashmir remains an area of concern for security agencies due to the continued militant presence there.
A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were working to provide a peaceful environment to ensure people turn out to vote. “Last time , at many places, people did not file nomination papers. This time things look different and people will not only file nominations but polling percentage will also go up.”
Two main regional parties--the National Conference (NC) and People Democratic Party (PDP)--boycotted the panchayat elections last held in November-December 2018 when 22,214 panches (panchayat members) and 3,459 sarpanches (village heads) were elected. Around 60% of the total panchayat seats in the Kashmir Valley had remained vacant then amid the boycott that coincided with concerns over threats to the erstwhile state’s special status.
Deaths and resignations have since led to further vacancies. Another 307 panch and sarpanch seats fell vacant as a result of polls held to elect Block Development Council (BDC) chairpersons in October.
The by-polls dates were announced on Thursday last a week after two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah of the NC and PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, were booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows for detention without trial for up to two years. Another former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, was booked under the PSA in September.
The NC and PDP, as well as the Congress, boycotted the BDC polls held in October 2019 citing the continued detention of political leaders, including the three former chief ministers.
The three were among the hundreds detained to prevent protests against the changes to Jammu and Kashmir’s special Constitution status and decision to bifurcate the state into two Union territories in August. A communications blackout and lockdown were also enforced in the region, where most of the curbs have since been eased even as Internet services remain restricted.