By Peerzada Mohammad Amin
Shops and businesses remained closed Friday in Indian Kashmir after separatists ordered a shutdown to protest the recent killing of five people, including three militants, days ahead of scheduled local elections.
Militants fighting against Indian rule in the region claimed by both India and Pakistan are opposed to the elections and have warned people to not participate.
Posters released by Hizbul Mujihideen (HM), the largest rebel group in the region, warned candidates in north Kashmir to desist from voting when polls open for elections on Oct. 8 to 16.
Special police officers have been asked to resign their posts or face consequences, according to police sources who did not want to be identified. Special police are not employed by the force but are brought in to aid in anti-terror operations.
An outbreak of insurgency on the Indian side has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
Authorities beefed up security across the disputed region and barred Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Srinagar to prevent anti-India protests. Separatists were detained in their homes to prevent them from leading protests, officials said.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh described as “historic” the elections to be held for the first time in almost 13 years in Kashmir, saying the vote will go a long way toward re-establishing grassroots democracy.
Unprecedented security arrangements have been made, officials said.
“In addition to the existing strength of forces, over 20,000 personnel would be deployed for poll duties,” Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Inspector Gen. Ravideep Sahi told BenarNews.
“The security forces are well prepared to deal with any situation and I request people need not panic but to exercise their right to vote. CRPF is maintaining a close synergy with Jammu and Kashmir police and other security agencies,” Sahi added.
Officials are concerned because militants have threatened acid attacks on candidates who take part in the elections, terming the vote a ploy by India to mislead the world community. At least 772 candidates filed their nomination petitions as of Friday, the last day to submit such paperwork, election officials said.
The state authorities last week said additional paramilitary forces would be deployed and announced an incentive of one month additional salary to employees performing election duties.
“The state has unprecedented security arrangements and every candidate can be provided with security,” Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, the state’s top government official, said last week.
Village administration elections were last held in 2011 while civic body (town) elections were held in 2005. While the civic elections will be early next month, the village administration polls will be held in nine phases between Nov. 17 and Dec. 11.
Previous elections could not be held because of violence plaguing Kashmir.
The main regional parties People’s Democratic Party and National Conference will boycott the election, citing alleged attempts by the Indian government to tamper with the statute, which guarantees special status to the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The parties asked the federal government to state its stand on the sensitive issue and take effective steps to protect it.
Fresh violence broke out Thursday after two civilians were killed during two separate anti-militancy operations by security forces. Dozens of anti-India protesters were injured in clashes with security forces following the killings.
As authorities struggled to maintain order, unidentified men torched at least eight village administration houses, mostly in militancy-infested southern Kashmir in the past 10 days, officials said.
Meanwhile, a special police officer posted as a security guard at a local legislator’s residence in Srinagar left with nine service rifles, police said Friday
“An alert has been sounded and manhunt launched to track him down. He may have decamped with rifles to join militants,” said a senior police officer who asked to remain anonymous.