Kashmir separatists held for opposing polls

Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have arrested three top Muslim separatist leaders along with scores of their supporters on a poll boycott campaign trail in Anantnag, south of the Himalayan region.

    Poll-boycott call evoked mixed response

    Scores were reported injured as the police fired teargas and wielded batons to break up an anti-election rally in which these leaders were speaking at the central square in Anantnag, the main town of the district.

    Polling in Anantnag, the third constituency in predominantly Muslim Vale of Kashmir, will be held on Wednesday in the third phase of the countrywide elections to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Indian Parliament. More than a million registered voters of Anantnag constituency are to elect their representative from among 13 candidates in the fray.

    During the first and second phase of the elections in April, Kashmiris from urban areas largely acquiesced to the poll boycott call, though turn out in the countryside was higher.

    But some villagers told reporters Indian security forces coerced them to vote, a charge vehemently denied by the officials. They asserted that in view of the "terrorist threat" the security forces had to move out to certain areas to "encourage" the people to vote.
    Troops deployed

    More than 20 people were killed and many more wounded in Baramulla and Srinagar, the two other constituencies in the Valley. In anticipation of separatist fighters' attempts to disrupt the election about 20,000 troops have fanned out in Anantnag to ensure a smooth and violence-free election. 

    A section of Kashmiris supported
    the poll boycott call

    The deployment will be in addition to the thousands of police, paramilitary and army personnel in the area combating the 15-year-old insurgency.

    Official figures say more than 40,000 have died during the insurgency. However, local human rights group place the toll at least twice as high.

    Six lawmakers will be elected to the 545-member Lok Sabha from Indian-administered-Kashmir, three of these from the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, two from Jammu and one from Ladakh. Both Jammu and Ladakh have sizeable Hindu and Buddhist populations.

    The four separatist leaders-Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’s Muhammad Yasin Malik, Democratic Freedom Party’s Syed Shabir Ahmad Shah, People’s League’s Shaikh Abd al-Aziz who recently formed an alliance called Itehadi (united) Force and their aides arrived at Anantnag’s congested China Square taking the district administration unawares.

    After walking through the commercial district of the town where, witnesses said, they were greeted with the shouts of "We want freedom" and "Elections? No way" the leaders and a few hundred of their supporters converged at Lal Chowk, the centre-square of Anantnag and began addressing the crowd.

    Soon the police and paramilitary forces cordoned off the place and when the officials' persuasion failed to yield the desired result, cops fired teargas into the crowd, fired assault rifles over their heads and used bamboo sticks to break the rally. 

    More troops were called in to
    beef up existing security

    Among the injured were Syed Shabir and Javed Ahmad Mir, a second-rung leader of the JKLF. Tuesday's incident has added to the already existing tensions in Anantnag ahead of the election.

    Kashmiri separatists have asked residents to boycott the elections, saying these cannot be a substitute for the right of self-determination promised to 13 million Kashmiris. They also maintain that New Delhi has always projected participation in elections to the outside world as a vote of confidence in Indian rule and democracy.
    In trouble

    Meanwhile, forcibly lifting the veil of a Muslim woman and infringing on her right to vote in the ongoing general elections in India have landed the leader of Indian-administered-Kashmir's ruling party in trouble.

    The country's Election Commission on Tuesday directed the Kashmir administration to register an FIR against Ms. Mahbuba Mufti, for intimidating a voter Shabnam.

    The bizarre incident involving Ms Mahbuba and the Srinagar woman whom she prevented from casting her vote is snowballing into a major political controversy.

    A PDP campaign rally in

    The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) president had along with her security guards descended on a polling booth on 26 April where she raised the veil off the woman she alleged was a bogus voter.

    Though the woman left without casting a vote she turned to be a genuine voter. The PDP leader has been accused of doing the act deliberately to scare away voters from an area known to be a bastion of the opposition National Conference (NC). Ironically, an Indian private TV channel showed her "courageous act to prevent bogus voting" repeatedly that day.

    Her critics charged her with infringing on a voter's right and the NC threatened to withdraw from the third and fourth phases of the elections if the Election Commission failed to take action against her. A party leader Ali Muhammad Sagar described Mahbuba’s action as "outrageous".

    Officials said that the FIR is to be filed under section 171 (c) of the Indian Penal Code and other concerned sections of the Representation of the Peoples Act.



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