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Anantnag Lok Sabha seat: Three-phased election, reduced polling hours point to daunting challenge for Kashmir

Srinagar: The decision to hold elections for the southern Kashmir parliamentary seat of Anantnag in three phases and reduce the polling by two hours has come in the wake of threats of violence during the elections in the constituency that will begin from Tuesday. The bypolls on the seat couldn’t be held in 2017 after eight people were killed during elections in relatively peaceful areas of the Srinagar parliamentary seat.

The elections in the district of Anantnag, on which the constituency is named, will be held in Kulgam on 29 April and Shopian and Pulwama on 6 May.

On Friday, the Election Commission of India (EC) also issued a notification to reduce the polling by two hours and to hold it from 7 am to 4 pm only. The EC notification read that the polling was being changed after “considering the reports of district administration, police, observers and chief electoral officer and taking into account all material circumstances including law and order situation.”

 Anantnag Lok Sabha seat: Three-phased election, reduced polling hours point to daunting challenge for Kashmir

Representational image. PTI

Earlier on 11 April, during the polling for Baramulla parliamentary seat, a teenager had died in clashes with security forces while militants hurled a grenade on the National Conference (NC) workers' meet at Tral. The grenade, however, exploded outside the meeting venue, causing no loss of lives. On Thursday, polling for Srinagar parliamentary seat was disrupted at many places due to stone-pelting, and the turnout was only 14.1 percent.

In April 2017, after the record-low voter turnout of 7 percent, the by-elections on Anantnag seat were cancelled. The polls were due after PDP president Mehbooba Mufti resigned from the seat to assume office as chief minister. Mehbooba had fielded her brother, Tasaduq Mufti, on the seat.

Additional chief electoral officer, Anil Koul, said that “precarious” security scenario is a reason for EC's decision to hold the elections in three phases in the constituency. At his 10 March press conference for the announcement of dates for Lok Sabha polls across India, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had admitted that holding the elections in Kashmir were a difficult task. “We will have to carry out three phases of election for just one constituency of Anantnag...so you can imagine how complicated it is," he said.

Mehbooba is now standing for re-election in Anantnag against retired judge and NC candidate, Hasnain Masoodi, and former minister and Congress state president GA Mir.

The seat was a PDP stronghold, but following the “heavy-handed” measures by the government forces to curb the unrest after the July 2016 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander Burhan Muzafar Wani, it has become synonymous with anti-India demonstrations in Kashmir.

Congress leader GN Monga said that the “campaigning in Anantnag seat has remained subdued and was relatively a difficult task.”

“It would be tough to hold the elections for Anantnag seat on account of anger against the PDP-BJP dispensation which ruled the state. The current government has removed security of even our MLAs and ex-MLAs further to foil the electioneering,” he said.

Though the campaigning was also a low-key affair on Srinagar parliamentary seat, in Anantang, run-up to the polls has also been marred by large-scale arrests of youth, who were charged for stone-pelting on security personnel.

During the unrest after Wani's killing, most of the parts of Anantnag district had remained off-limits for the security forces as anti-militancy activities were suspended for a long time.

In Mehbooba’s home town of Bijbehara, the protests were as fierce as in any other part of the Lok Sabha constituency. On Monday, her security entourage was attacked by stone-pelting youth.

Unlike the roadside campaigning in Srinagar constituency, in southern Kashmir area of Pulwama, local residents said that they have seen mostly indoor party meetings.

At the height of the protests in 2016, the people had burned down security camps and even looted dozens of weapons from Damhal Hanjipora police station, which will go for polls in second phase in the constituency. Around that time, across the constituency, scenes of youth holding night vigils to foil the arrests of stone-pelters, and shutdowns and road blockades being enforced by demonstrators had been a common phenomenon.

Over two and half years after July 2016 uprising, there has been no let up in the protests taken out during the anti-militancy operations that are launched by the forces in areas of Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam.

All three parties, PDP, NC and Congress have denounced the “heavy handed” security measures as well as attempts by BJP to revoke the special status of the state under Article 370 and 35 A of the Indian Constitution.

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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2019 19:30:31 IST