D-Day of poll: Graveyard calm wraps Srinagar

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Anantnag scare haunts poll handlers

70 mobile bunkers set up to check militant movement; Top cops busy ensuring 28-plus percentage

SRINAGAR: Panic triggered by abandoned bags at various locations across the capital city ahead of Wednesday’s poll depicted the nervousness that the trouble-hit phase of elections in Anantnag constituency past Thursday has instilled into security apparatus here. Mobs in the old city have stalked the security vehicles ferrying poll staff at least at two spots near Darish Kadal and Rajouri Kadal, both separatist strongholds. The staff is reported to have escaped unhurt.

The over-heightened alert across three districts, which comprise the Srinagar constituency, has almost halted life at major towns and village clusters in both rural and urban areas of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts, which together form Srinagar parliamentary constituency.

Although no major incident of violence occurred ahead of this phase – except for a shootout at Pattan that borders Srinagar and Budgam, and mild clashes in the city’s volatile Maisuma area – the security men in full riot gear lined all major roads, lanes and by-lanes of both oversensitive downtown and the uptown areas toward south of Srinagar. Sources revealed the setting up of nearly seventy mobile bunkers across the constituency in order to check the militant movement.

The Police has already taken into “preventive custody” over five hundred “listed stone throwers”. While the leaders of separatist groups have been either confined to home or detained in lockups, their cadres have gone underground with the likelihood of staging demonstrations around Srinagar.

Police sources said there was no specific intelligence input about the danger of an armed attack but the level of threat has increased because of an unprecedented public reaction and militant attack during the previous round in Anantnag on April 24.

In order to ensure ‘violence free’ polls in Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam districts of Srinagar constituency, the authorities have deployed 241 companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) for polling duty.

Sources said apart from 241 companies of paramilitary troopers, the authorities will deploy around 50 companies of CRPF to tackle stone throwing protests. The 15 battalions of Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police (JKAP) and Indian Reserve Police (IRP) will also be deployed to maintain law and order.

The polling stations will be taken over by forces by this evening, officials said.

Local newsgathering agency GNS quoted a top security source saying that authorities as well as government forces will not allow the south Kashmir-like situation in Central Kashmir on the polling day. “We have learnt lesson from south Kashmir where stone-throwers as well as militants resorted to violence and created mess on the poll day which led to low turnout in Anantnag constituency, ” GNS’ unnamed source says.

The Central Kashmir’s Anantnag constituency which went for polls last week recorded 28% turnout amid violent clashes and a militant attack.

In order to avoid militant attacks, the searches and patrolling by police, Special Operation Group (SOG) and CRPF have been intensified. “Militants will definitely try to derail democratic process. We have strong inputs about their presence in all the three districts. But we will not allow them to achieve success,” a senior paramilitary officer, insisting not to be named, said.

 “About 60-70 mobile bunkers have been setup at various strategic locations to tackle militant movement and more checkpoints have been established,” the officer said.

The security agency have received ‘inputs’ about the militant movement in all the three districts of Srinagar constituency particularly in Chadoora area of Budgam, GNS reported on Tuesday.

The Inspector General (IG) CRPF, P K Singh, however, downplayed the security threat while denying to have gotten any ‘specific input’ about the militants trying to derail polls. “But”, he said, “We have a contingency plan ready that would help us tackle an attack if we face any such situation.”

He said the whole Central Kashmir is under security and the arrangements have been finalized for polls.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Monday said they have detained over five hundred youth to ensure violence-free poll but the rights groups and separatist outfits claim that around 1300 boys were rounded up across the span of Srinagar parliament constituency.. Almost all the pro-freedom leaders and activists have been detained ahead of polls.

The pro-freedom leaders and militants have asked people to boycott the polls. The militants have also threatened action against the voters. Several posters attributed to Hizbul Mujahideen appeared in old city threatening voters and pro-India workers.

Meanwhile, the civilian movement in Srinagar was low as compared to other days. The officials admitted that the life grew slow at least two days ahead of the crucial phase of polling. A Srinagar city resident said: “There is fear and tension in the city. No one wants to get into the trouble. So people aren’t taking any risk.”

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