‘Repeat of Sunday’ fear looms over Budgam areas

Fear has gripped this town and its outlying areas as they brace for repoll in 38 polling stations on Thursday, after having been caught in a welter of protests and clashes during the past Sunday’s bypoll for Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.
‘Repeat of Sunday’ fear looms over Budgam areas
File Photo

Fear has gripped this town and its outlying areas as they brace for repoll in 38 polling stations on Thursday, after having been caught in a welter of protests and clashes during the past Sunday's bypoll for Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. The unprecedented polling-day mayhem had left eight dead and hundreds wounded in action by forces. Seven of these deaths had occurred in Budgam district.

Repoll will be held at 16 polling booths of Chadoora assembly segment of Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, followed by eight each of Budgam and Chrar-e-Sharif, five of Beerwah and one of Khan Sahib.

To pre-empt a repeat of Sunday's protests and clashes, police and security forces are carrying out raids to round up "potential trouble-makers."

"As many as 50 people have been rounded up and search is continuing for others," a senior police official said, requesting anonymity.

Budgam, famous for Chrar-e-Sharif shrine, has not witnessed much violence during the late 1990s and 2000s except for the siege by Pakistan-based militant commander Mast Gul in 1995. Gul had led a large group of militants into the shrine, leading to a stand-off with the army for nearly two months. In the end, the shrine was burnt down under mysterious circumstances.

The area has a mix of Shia and Sunni Muslims and Sikh population.

People here are quite vocal about supporting the poll boycott called by separatists, which, coupled with unbridled violence, had led to the lowest ever 7.14 per cent polling in the constituency on Sunday.

They are also apprehensive about the threat from militant groups that have enhanced their presence in the last one year.

"Everyone of us knows that militants have been staying here and police is not acting. If they (police) are scared, you can imagine our plight," said a political worker at Khan Sahib, who did not wish to be named.

The district has had higher voter turnout than others in earlier elections compared to the Sunday bypoll.

Personnel of various security and law enforcement agencies are seen securing polling stations. Polling staff had abandoned several of these booths as stone-pelting protesters descended there to enforce the boycott called by separatists.

Tell-tale signs of Sunday's violence are visible in several areas of Beerwah, the constituency of former chief minister Omar Abdullah, where lanes are still littered with stones.

There is palpable tension in the area as people are observing 'Rasm-e-Chaharrum' in the memory of those killed in firing by forces on the election day. Those killed included teenagers.

The crackdown on militants and alleged trouble-makers notwithstanding, alleged miscreants burnt the vehicle of Altaf Ahmed, the district president of the ruling PDP and warned him against participating in repoll.

The state's former chief minister and National Conference nominee for the seat, Farooq Abdullah, apprehends fresh violence during the repoll.

"It is unfortunate that Jammu and Kashmir has plunged into such lawlessness. I don't know what will happen tomorrow. The PDP will have to answer about every death that has taken place on the polling day," he told PTI.

PDP candidate Nazir Khan, a resident of Beerwah, was not available for comments. There is strong police presence outside his house. "Saheb ghar pe nahi hain," they tell the visitors while turning them away.

The army, meanwhile, has been asked to secure the periphery of the entire Budgam district. A special briefing was organised by paramilitary forces after a video showing people kicking some soldiers went viral on social networking sites. PTI  

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