SRINAGAR: Atmosphere was tense Tuesday in this summer capital of J&K on the eve of Lok Sabha polls.
For most of Srinagar district, it was an uneasy day as could be judged from the noticeably-thin traffic and pedestrian movement on roads and markets. By the evening, the movement had lessened further to a degree that some sought to equate with strikes.
“The less movement of public and private transport so early in the evening made me feel that it is strike today,” said Haseeb Ahmad, a postgraduate student at Kashmir University.
“I was in the university all day, but most of the students and staff were absent. We didn’t do any class work, and almost everybody present there had left by 3 pm. It was virtually an off day in the university,” he added.
The government offices including schools, colleges, and universities presented a deserted look as most of their staff didn’t attend the work to be able to join their poll duties while the clients and students didn’t show up either.
Administrators at a private school located at Bye-pass told Kashmir Reader that their vehicles had been asked not to pick up the staff and students.
“Our drivers had received a letter from unknown persons asking them not to collect the staff and students on Tuesday. Our driver called me at midnight to inform me about this. It made us reluctant to keep the school open on Tuesday,” the administrator said.
The presence of police and paramilitary forces has increased on the roads in past around 48 hours, adding to the prevailing tension.
Police and paramilitary CRPF have laid nakas in many areas of the old city and civil lines. Almost every second motorcycle or car is being stopped at the spots with policemen, besides frisking, checking travelers’ identity cards and even the documents pertaining to the vehicles.
The security across Srinagar was intensified on Sunday following grenade explosions at Khanyar in old Srinagar and Magam in district Budgam. The grenade explosions, in two of the three districts going to polls on April 30, occurred at the election rallies of various political parties competing for the Lok Sabha seat.
While police has officially arrested around 500 youths across the Valley on charges of involvement in stone pelting, many locals in the old city told Kashmir Reader that many youths have gone underground to avoid the nocturnal raids and “harassment” by police.
“Around a week ago, police started summoning everyone having any kind of police record. The boys were asked to report at their respective police stations, and those who failed to do so, are being harassed by police through frequent nocturnal raids at their residences,” they said, pleading anonymity.
“Many boys in old city have abandoned their houses to avoid the arrests, and police is now detaining their fathers or brothers,” they added.
The police, the locals said, also seek to arrest those injured in police firing in the recent past.
“A boy had received a bullet in his limb during protests sometime back, but there is no FIR or something registered against him in the police station. Yet, police has been raiding his house to arrest him,” they added.
Police has already admitted large scale arrests across the Valley, making clear that the arrests of persons “attempting to intimidate” the potential voters would continue.
Unlike Tral in South Kashmir, no killing by suspected militants has occurred anywhere in Srinagar. But the posters by the name of militant organisations have appeared in many areas, threatening people not to vote.
“The posters were posted by unknown persons in middle of the night some four days ago. We have no idea where they come from,” a man from Nowhatta said about a poster posted on a wall.
“These posters are everywhere, and by the name of various militant organisations,” he added.
Similar posters have also appeared in other areas like Khimber, and Chatterhama.
Amid fear and tension, poll activity has been low key in the whole of Srinagar. The banners and buntings usually seen as expression of poll fever in any constituency in missing from almost everywhere.
A few buntings of BJP and Congress have been secretly hoisted in Safa Kadal area, and a few flags of National Conference (NC) are visible at Khanyar where the party held its election rally before the campaigning closed on Monday.