Kashmir’s battle of ballot bigger challenge for security forces

Srinagar: Fighting elections in Jammu and Kashmir since militancy began in the early 1990s has been a challenge to politicians, but not as big as it has been for security forces to secure the process.

Amid poll boycott appeals by separatist leaders and grave threats from militants, sticking one’s neck out to vote has become a risky task for the common Kashmiri.

The by-election for the two Lok Sabha constituencies of Srinagar and Anantnag is scheduled next month.

The National Conference and the Congress are fighting the elections together. Their main challenge comes from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Jammu and Kashmir Police chief S.P. Vaid has expressed confidence that the elections will be fully secured by the security forces.

The state government has demanded 100 additional companies of paramilitary forces from New Delhi to augment the existing strength of the security forces.

The National Conference has blamed the state government for withdrawing the security cover of some of its senior leaders.

“How can anyone campaign without proper security? It seems the government does not want enough participation of people in these elections,” said a senior National Conference leader.

Elections have always been held under the shadow of guns in the Kashmir Valley since separatist violence erupted.

Security forces wield guns to secure the electoral process so that a semblance of normalcy is seen in one of world’s most highly militarised zones.

National Conference President and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is contesting from Srinagar while state Congress President G.A. Mir is fighting from Anantnag.

Farooq Abdullah lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Srinagar to Tariq Hameed Karra of the PDP.

Karra resigned last year both from the PDP and Parliament, triggering the by-election. He has since joined the Congress and would now be campaigning for Farooq Abdullah.

The PDP has this time fielded Nazir Ahmad Khan, who defected from the Congress to join the ruling party.

Compared to Khan, Farooq Abdullah is a political heavyweight but the Goliath’s victory in Srinagar is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Asked whether he was 100 per cent sure about his father’s victory, National Conference leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said: “Nobody can be 100 per cent sure of victory in elections.”

The Anantnag seat fell vacant after Mehbooba Mufti became the Chief Minister last year following the death of her father and predecessor Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

The PDP has fielded Mehbooba’s brother Tasaduq Hussain Sayeed — a debutant in politics — from Anantnag. He is otherwise known as a Bollywood cinematographer who made his mark in “Omkara” and “Kaminey”.

Anantnag is the home constituency of the Muftis and the PDP represents 11 of the constituency’s assembly segments.

The National Conference and the Congress hold two assembly seats each and the CPI-M one.

Statistically, it should have been a cakewalk for Tasaduq. Unfortunately for the PDP, Anantnag is no longer the same place politically from where the Muftis rose to power.

The 2016 unrest has eroded most of PDP’s political base in south Kashmir areas which form the Anantnag parliamentary seat.

Not that the National Conference or the Congress has made any inroads in south Kashmir to claim the PDP’s lost ground.

A PDP election meeting in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on Sunday was disrupted by stone-pelting youths. Three PDP workers were injured in the incident but the meeting continued as per schedule.

Most election meetings in Srinagar constituency have so far been held in the ‘Nawa-e-Subha’ complex of the National Conference. One meeting was held in Beerwah assembly segment, represented by Omar Abdullah in the state assembly.