Anantnag: Threats from militants warning people to not participate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections seem to have had their intended effect in Pulwama and Shopian districts in south Kashmir, which are yet to witness any political activity organised by any of the mainstream parties.
There have thus far been no rallies or even closed-door meetings held anywhere in these two districts, given the volatile situation that prevails around.
The two districts, considered to be the hotbed of militancy, fall within the ambit of Anantnag Lok Sabha segment. The other two districts which the segment comprises are Anantnag and Kulgam.
The seat holds the record of having the longest deferred by-polls in the history of India. The by-polls were postponed twice in 2017, after the seat fell vacant in April 2016, but still could not be held because of the threat of large-scale violence.
The sensitivity of the seat can be gauged by the fact that for the first time in the history of India, the Election Commission has distributed polling in a single constituency over three phases.
The Anantnag Lok Sabha seat will witness polling on April 23 in Anantnag district, on April 29 on Kulgam district, and on May 6 in Pulwama and Shopian districts.
Mainstream political parties have been cautious with their political activities in the southern region of Kashmir. There has been some political activity, at secure venues, in Kulgam and Anantnag districts, where Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC), and the Congress have held some poll rallies.
However, in Pulwama and Shopian there have been none thus far.
Local sources told Kashmir Reader that fear among political workers of mainstream parties has grown manifold after the recent threats issued by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Riyaz Naikoo.
Naikoo in a recent audio message asked people to stay away from electoral politics and said that anyone participating will be considered as a traitor.
“Stay away from the elections and poll rallies. We have been at war with the people who participate in the election process, and the war will continue. We will treat them as we have been doing in the past,” Naikoo is heard saying in the audio clip.
Some political workers that Kashmir Reader talked to in these districts said they were waiting for things to unfold, and to see how their leadership responds.
“So far, there has been no initiative from the leaders. That is partly because Shopian and Pulwama are going to polls in the third phase. For now, we are just waiting,” a political worker from Pulwama said.
The workers also acknowledged that there is widespread fear among them. “There have been threats and there have been killings during the last month or so. More than half a dozen people have been killed by militants. It makes you think twice,” a worker from Shopian district told Kashmir Reader.
There have been more than 7 civilian killings across south Kashmir in the last about a month. The first was carried out in Pulwama district, only two days after dates for the Lok Sabha polls were announced on March 12.
The upper-rung leaders of political parties, while maintaining that there has been complacence because of polls being held in the third phase in the two districts, do not completely rule out the threat perception.
PDP senior leader and spokesperson Rafi Mir told Kashmir Reader that his party was organising and taking feedback from the cadre. “We have ample time. The polling is in third phase. By then we are assessing the situation and based on feedback from our cadre, we will decide what pragmatic steps to take,” Mir said.
The NC candidate for the seat, Hasnain Masoodi, when asked whether he thinks any rallies can be conducted or not in Shopian and Pulwama, said that he did not know about rallies but was sure that the voting percentage would increase this time round.
“How things have been unfolding – the highway ban and the ban on some organisations, speaks volumes of the government’s intentions. I think people will take a cue from that and will come out to vote in good numbers,” Masoodi said.
Security agencies, on the other hand, maintain that the rallies can be held whenever they need to be held.
“There have been no requisitions thus far from any of the political parties but once we get them, we will ensure that the security is foolproof for rallies to be held peacefully,” said a senior police official from south Kashmir.