Ahead of Poll Kashmir Valley turned into garrison, Voters ‘Clueless’ about candidates

Amid tight security arrangements, the government is all set to conduct first phase of Urban Local Bodies (ULB) polls in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday.
Senior Police officials said fool-proof security arrangements had been made for the smooth conduct of civic polls.
They said the deployment would be made at polling stations around midnight while contingency plans were also in place in all districts to deal with any abrupt situation.
Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Law and Order and Security, Munir Ahmad Khan told Kashmir Post that no “classification” with regard to sensitivity of polling stations was made in Kashmir.
“There is no classification. Some places are uncontested while some do have contest. Wherever contest is taking place, security arrangements are in place there. The deployment of police and paramilitary forces has been made as per the area and its vulnerability,” Khan said. “The contingency plan has also been made.”
He said since the elections were being held after a long time, it had its own challenges.
“We have kept everything in mind. We are ready to deal with any challenges—law and order as well as militant threats,” the ADGP said.
The civic polls are being held after a gap of eight years with 244 candidates, 231 of them in Kashmir, already declared elected unopposed in the State.
Electronic voting machines (EVMs) would be used in these elections for the first time.
Over 400 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) have been deployed in Kashmir for the election security duty besides Police.
Among them, many companies are also securing the government quarters, hotels and Dak Bungalows in Kashmir where poll candidates have been shifted due to militant threats.
For the past many days, government forces have conducting frisking at many locations in Srinagar and other parts of the Valley to check the movement of militants.
Security grid has also put on extra alert after the killing of two National Conference (NC) workers at Habba Kadal area of Srinagar.
In the first phase, the civic polls would be held in three wards of Srinagar Municipal Corporation—16, 17 and 74, municipal committees of Kupwara, Handwara, Bandipora, Baramulla in north Kashmir, Budgam, Chadoora, Khan Sahab in central Kashmir, Kulgam, Devsar, Achabal, Kokernag, Qazigund in south Kashmir and municipal committees of Kargil and Leh.
Sources said the government forces would take extra caution to ensure free and fair elections while much security would be given to south Kashmir areas due to sensitivity factor linked to militancy and law and order issues.
“Central and north Kashmir will also remain under due security attention,” the sources said.
Meanwhile, in Jammu, polls would be also held in municipal committeesof Bishnah, Arnia, R S Pora, Ghomanhasan, Akhnoor, Jourian, Khour, Municipal Corporation Jammu, Municipal Committees Rajouri, Thanamandi, Nowshera, Sunderbani, Kalakote, Poonch and Surankote.

Meanwhile, The first phase of the urban local bodies elections will begin in the state on Monday, but locals are “clueless” about the exercise, with most of them complaining that they do not know their candidates or even when to vote.
Shoaib Ahmad, a resident of an uptown locality in Srinagar, said people in his ward did not know who their candidates were. The summer capital of the state is going to the vote in the first phase on Monday.
“Ask anyone here if they know their candidates. Everyone will tell you that they have no idea. There is too much secrecy,” said Ahmad, who works in a private company.
He alleged that the government was only interested in “showing” that an election was being held, but not with its conduct in a proper manner.
A police officer said the prevailing situation in Kashmir did not allow candidates to campaign openly as there was a threat to their lives.
While the separatists have called for the poll boycott, militants have threatened to target persons taking part in the elections.
“The candidates have been given security and most of them have been taken to secure locations, but the situation does not allow them to campaign. The threat is not only from militants, but also from mobs,” the officer said.
The complaints of not knowing the candidates were not limited to the city. People in many other areas of the Valley expressed ignorance about the details of the polls in their wards.
Ishfaq Ahmad, a resident of Ganderbal, which is voting in the last phase of the elections on October 16, said such was the level of secrecy that people were joking that only the candidates themselves knew that they were contesting the elections.
“We have no idea who is contesting from our ward. There has been no campaign or door-to-door canvassing by anyone. Even the government has not put the details of the candidates on the Election Commission website. There are simply no details anywhere. Only the candidate knows that he is contesting. Perhaps, even their families do not, such is the secrecy,” Ishfaq said.
He said “most of the people would boycott the polls”, but relatives and friends of the candidates would exercise their franchise.
Another potential voter, Khalid, said he was earlier excited about voting but now he believed that the polls should be put on hold till the situation improved.
“The government says the situation does not permit them to provide details of the candidates. In that case, they should have delayed the polls till there was some improvement. I was excited to vote, especially since the electronic voting machines have been introduced. But I do not have essential details for voting, so how and why will I vote?” he asked.
Apart from the secrecy regarding the candidates, people in some areas of the city here do not know when to vote.
“Forget about who is contesting, we do not even know when is the voting taking place in our area,” said Ghulam Qadir, a resident of the Sekidafar area in Srinagar. He said he had seen many elections, but “nothing like this has ever happened”.
“People are clueless about the date of voting. The government should have advertised the poll details on a phase basis in newspapers. Most of the people here do not know their ward numbers. Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Qadir.
A senior Congress leader said the atmosphere in the state was not conducive for the polls. “This is the most low profile election in the history of the state. We have not seen anything like this. The atmosphere is not conducive for the polls, but it was thrust on us by the Centre,” he said.
The Congress leader said the secrecy maintained by the administration over the whole process had cast a shadow over the exercise.