Shadow of violence looms over Anantnag ahead of Lok Sabha by-polls
A day after 8 young men, including teenaged protesters, were killed in election-day violence in Srinagar, the Kashmir valley remains in ferment and turbulence threatens to spill over to Anantnag, the Lok Sabha seat where by-poll is two days away.
The highway from Srinagar to Anantnag is eerily quiet, while stone-pelting protesters fight pitched battles with security forces in the bylanes of towns and villages where loudspeakers blare pre-recorded speeches by militants, asking voters not to participate in the April 12 by-poll.
Grim portents of yet another showdown between protesters and security forces are all too visible on the ground as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's brother and ruling PDP candidate Tasaduq Mufti appealed to the Election Commission to postpone the polling till calm returns to the Valley.
Deployment of security personnel, however, continues and men in uniform have started undertaking area domination exercise in the constituency, which the state's Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu had yesterday termed as a "bigger challenge" than Srinagar.
In Pulwama district, one of the worst-hit by militancy, villagers were being warned against voting, officials said.
Foreign militants were allegedly seen roaming the streets freely, issuing threats and vanishing into the nearby forest, they said.
The security establishment, according to official sources, has suggested bringing the number of polling stations down to help provide effective security during the exercise.
Mosques in various places across the constituency, which straddles Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopian districts, are being used by the militants for raising anti-national slogans.
Pre-recorded speeches by militants are being played from these places, in a grim reminder of the days in the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, the young Hizbul Mujahideen commander and posterboy of militancy in the valley. The entire valley had convulsed in seemingly uncontrollable violence in the wake of his death in an encounter for months on end.
Two government schools designated as polling stations for Wednesday's bypoll were set afire in the fresh spiral of violence in Anantnag.
A shutdown called by separatists has already thrown normal life out of gear. Kashmir University and Islamic University of Science and Technology have postponed all examinations scheduled for today.
Police have rounded up 100 odd potential troublemakers in Anantnag constituency.
Rival PDP and Congress candidates stayed away from campaigning today, the last day of stumping. While Tasaduq Mufti appealed to the Election Commission to defer the polling, Congress' G A Mir cancelled all his rallies and roadshows slated for today.
A majority of polling stations, sources said, have been declared prone to militant attacks and the army is undertaking area domination exercise in most vulnerable places.
The state's police chief S P Vaid held a meeting with senior security officials last night where he reviewed the arrangements for the poll. Senior state government officials discussed the situation with EC representatives today.