Kashmir unrest: Cancellation of Anantnag bypolls is huge gain for pro-freedom sentiment in the Valley

The Election Commission of India’s decision to cancel the Anantnag parliamentary bypolls may have come as a relief for the ruling PDP, but it is a huge gain for pro-freedom sentiment in the Valley, including the militants mainly operating in south Kashmir.

Over the past few months, these militants have been strengthening their hold on south Kashmir’s four districts — Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag — with a surge in attacks and the continuous hunting of political workers. Last month three political activists were killed, including the PDP Pulwama district president, in a clear sign of deteriorating law and order and an upper hand over the forces.

File image of a charred polling staff bus following an attack by a group of protesters at Nowgam during voting for Srinagar bypolls. PTI

File image of a charred polling staff bus following an attack by a group of protesters at Nowgam during voting for Srinagar bypolls. PTI

The by-election for the Anantnag parliamentary constituency was slated to be held on 13 April, but after eight people were killed in clashes on 9 April in Budgam district and a record low turnout, the EC postponed the date of the election to 25 May.

The state government led by Mehbooba Mufti — whose brother Tasaduq is fighting from the Anantnag parliamentary constituency — had earlier requested that the bypolls be deferred, stating that the four districts falling under the constituency: Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian, were the worst affected. "We welcome this decision because the situation on the ground to hold elections is not conducive, as the recent polling has amply made clear," PDP general secretary, Nizamuddin Bhat, told Firstpost.

"There is a need to create an atmosphere of normalcy and for that the Government of India must initiate dialogue with different shades of opinion in the Valley," he added.

In an order on Monday night, the EC said it was cancelling the bypolls as the ground situation was not favorable to hold “free and fair elections”, and the situation was continuously deteriorating.

The EC has said one of the reasons for cancelling the by-election was also the unavailability of a sufficient number of security personnel during polling. The commission had sought 30,000 paramilitary personnel for both the bypolls, but increased the security demands. The home ministry, however, put down a request by the commission for 74,000 paramilitary personnel and were offered only 30,000 additional security forces.

But National Conference working president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah came down hard on the PDP-BJP government for failing to handle the situation in Kashmir. He blamed the present dispensation for cancelling the elections.

Omar tweeted:

With the fresh gruesome killing of seven people, including five policemen on Monday in Kulgam district, the situation in south Kashmir has only worsened and the writ of militants is running large in the countryside, even as the forces had in recent weeks put a sudden brake on counterinsurgency operations. A senior police official based in Anantnag told Firstpost that it will become worse as the security forces will be now speeding up counterinsurgency operations in at least two districts (Pulwama and Kulgam), where militants have been seen openly roaming in markets and villages for the past few weeks.

"We will go after them and get them very soon because of the EC decision. We wanted to create an atmosphere in which people would feel safe to go to a polling station," the police official said, "There is anger and frustration among our forces after they saw their colleagues murdered on the roadside in Kulgam."

Over the past few weeks, encounters between security forces and militants had largely stopped in south Kashmir. Before the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat went to the polls, security forces had carried out dozens of operations against militants, but the intensity had gone down after the low percentage of polling for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat and the killing of eight people on that day.

But the EC decision to cancel the polls for want of additional forces and a deteriorating law and order situation will only embolden the militants to carry out more attacks next time the EC decides to hold polls in Kashmir.

"It is a clear sign of who is in charge of Kashmir these days. This government has failed to provide a sense of security among people, leave aside making sure that EC is able to hold the elections," Ghulam Ahmad Mir, the Congress-National Conference, joint candidate for Anatnag parliamentary constituency, told Firstpost.

Updated Date: May 03, 2017 13:10 PM

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