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J&K begins to move DDC poll candidates to secure locations amid militant threats

Development comes two days after J&K DGP Dilbag Singh said there was a possibility of militants trying to disrupt the upcoming DDC elections.

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Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration has started providing secure accommodation to candidates from the Valley who are in the fray for the upcoming District Development Council elections and the 2020 urban local bodies and panchayat bypolls in the union territory.

The move, though described as customary by the senior police brass, is being done amid threat posed by militant outfits to those participating in the polls, according to officials.

The development comes two days after the J&K DGP Dilbag Singh said there was a possibility of militants trying to disrupt the upcoming DDC polls. He was addressing a meeting to review security plans and preparedness in central Kashmir for the elections.

The development also comes amid threatening posters surfacing in the Valley, directing non-residents to refrain from buying land and locals from selling land to outsiders.

According to official sources, the administration has now directed district-level government and police officials to make a list of individuals who have filed nominations for the post of DDC chairpersons and sarpanchs.

Officials privy to the development said the administration has already begun housing the candidates in secure locations in Srinagar as well as their respective home districts. They also said that security personnel will accompany the candidates while campaigning.

A bulk of the candidates being provided secure accommodation, however, are being housed in Srinagar where the senior-most district officials have been roped in to “keep the candidates safe given the threats by militant outfits special in some districts of south and north Kashmir”, said a government official.

A senior police officer, confirming the development, said, “Clustered accommodation has been provided with the common security pool.”

“For now candidates for the DDC and sarpanch posts are being provided security as well as accommodation across Kashmir,” a senior government official told ThePrint requesting anonymity. “In districts most hit by militancy, 20-30 per cent of the candidates are being provided accommodation in Srinagar. The candidates from Srinagar are obviously being adjusted in the district as well.”

Also read: Fissures continue to deepen in Gupkar alliance as parties differ on district council polls

Candidates being housed in hotels, govt accommodation

Multiple sources in the administration said most of the candidates are now being housed in various hotels and government facilities across the Valley. Already several hundred political workers, panchs and sarpanchs have been staying in different hotels of Srinagar since 2018 following the Urban Local Body (ULB) and panchayat polls of that year.

According to government documents seen by ThePrint, a total of 5,379 candidates have so far filed their nominations for all of the elections in the Kashmir division alone, of whom around 250 are fighting for the posts of DDC chairperson and sarpanchs.

A large chunk of the candidates, that is 3,989, are fighting for panch posts. “We have not begun providing security to individuals who have filed their nominations for the post of panchs. Discussions are being held to do that as well,” the senior government official quoted above said.

Besides 280 DDC seats, elections are also being held for around 13,000 vacant panch, sarpanch and ULB seats.

The seats had remained vacant after main regional parties had decided to boycott the 2018 elections to demand assurance from the Centre that the special status of J&K will not be tinkered with. The Modi government scrapped Article 370, which granted the special status to the erstwhile state, on 5 August last year.

Posters surface against new land orders 

According to another senior police officer, the security agencies in Kashmir have been directed to maintain a strict vigil across the region owing to the number of killings of political workers this year.

The officer said political killings were the highest in the last five years.

More than a dozen individuals have been killed this year, allegedly by militant outfits across Jammu and Kashmir. A majority of them belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The number of political killings in 2017, 2018 and 2019 was six, five and five respectively,” the officer said. “We want to ensure that the number of untoward incidents in the elections remain to a minimum.”

It is in this backdrop that the surfacing of threatening posters takes significance.

Officials, however, added that the posters do not seem like a job of an organisation but suspect the role of individuals trying to stoke trouble.

The posters issued by the organisation calling itself the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Army termed the recently introduced land laws as “black laws” and said the intention behind the law was “to uproot people of Kashmir from their ancestral land as was done to Palestinians”.

“The Ulema across the world have issued a fatwa that non-state Indian citizens should not be sold or rented out land in Jammu and Kashmir,” a portion of the poster reads. “We want to tell the non-state residents that you very well know in many states of India even Indian citizens cannot buy land. In comparison, J&K is a United Nation recognised dispute. So by investing your money here do not put your time, respect and life in danger.”

The police said they are investigating the matter.

“We received reports of these posters surfacing in some districts of Kashmir including Srinagar and Bandipora. We are seeing if these posters appear in other parts of the Valley and take action accordingly,” a senior police officer said.

Also read: Gujjar, Bakerwal communities peaceful, govt ‘pushing them to the wall’, Mehbooba Mufti says


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