GANDERBAL: After the strikingly low turnout dominated the Lok Sabha polls in the Valley this year, the authorities have tactfully crippled the pro-freedom voices and possibilities of boycott in the Assembly elections that began Tuesday.
The police have either detained pro-freedom activists and suspected stone pelters or threatened to arrest their relatives to prevent them from undertaking election boycott campaign. And the strategy, executed well in advance, proved fruitful in the first phase of the elections, as pro-freedom sentiments or protests, characteristic of polls in Kashmir, were absent Tuesday amidst huge voter enthusiasm.
In Kangan, for example, police has taken an undertaking (about not indulging in anti-poll activities) from the elders or neighbours of the pro-freedom activists who were previously involved in poll boycott activities. “The violation of the bond would merit arrest of the signatory, not of the youth itself.”
“Ten days ago, police visited our house and asked my elders to write a bond that I won’t talk about election boycott. Police threatened me ‘if you still work for boycott, we will arrest those who signed the bond’,” a youth Shakeel Ahmad told Kashmir Reader.
“I could afford my arrest, but I cannot put my elders into trouble. So, I don’t have a choice,” Ahmad, staring at the long queue of voters outside the polling station at main chowk Kangan, said.
According to the locals in the constituency, nearly 200 teenagers and youths were dealt with in the same manner while several others have been taken into “preventive” custody.
A 27-year-old youth Fayaz Ahmad Bhat was arrested last week allegedly for accompanying an activist who had delivered an anti-poll speech in Qadeem Jamia Masjid in the area.
“On Monday, our father suffered a brain stroke after my brother was arrested. We tried to plead for his release, but in vain. They have registered an FIR against him,” Bhat’s brother Waseem Ahmad said. “They may release him only after the elections end.”
In Chattergul village, about 8 km from the main chowk, a septuagenarian activist of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh’s younger son has been arrested by police. The family believes that his arrest, made shortly after police had released Sheikh from detention, could be “to suppress the anti-election activities”.
“I was detained for two days last week. They released me only after the locals threatened protests. But soon after my release, my son was arrested from Srinagar,” Sheikh told Kashmir Reader.
“We were not informed about his arrest until we ourselves made efforts to trace him. And they haven’t yet told us about the charges leveled against him,” he added.
If the people are to be believed, candidates of pro-India parties informed police about the pro-freedom youths, who were later arrested or harassed.
“They went to police with the photographs and video clips of protests held during the LS polls,” a group of youths at Tulmulla in Ganderbal told Kashmir Reader.
In the last two weeks, the youths said, police has arrested at least three boys from the village, which witnessed a comparatively moderate voter turnout. Besides, police has been carrying out nocturnal raids to arrest more suspected stone throwers, said the youths.
Visibly mindful of the distractions caused to voters during the LS polls by the pro-freedom youths, on Tuesday the police didn’t allow people to gather in the market adjacent to the polling booths housed in a government school.
“We are with boycott, but the police made our lives difficult. Ironically, not the army but police is acting against us,” Fayaz Ahmad, a youth who didn’t vote, said.
Soon after the Assembly elections were announced, police had said that it would not allow poll-boycott activities. Accordingly, leaders and activists of pro-freedom parties such Hurriyat Conference (G), JK Hurriyat and JKLF have been taken into custody besides the alleged stone pelters from across the Valley.
On Monday, Ramesh Arora, the state vice-President and Kashmir Affairs In-Charge of the BJP said that “arresting and releasing people has become like a money-making industry in the state”.