Security shutdowns, patrols as tense IoK prepares to vote | Pakistan Today

Security shutdowns, patrols as tense IoK prepares to vote

SRINAGAR: Indian security forces shut down roads and stepped up patrols Wednesday in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK), a day before voters in the region go to the polls.

Tens of thousands of security forces have poured into the occupied area ahead of voting on April 18, which is the second phase of India’s massive elections.

Tensions have skyrocketed in the war-torn valley ever since the Pulwama attack in February which killed 40 Indian paramilitary force personnel.

New Delhi has deployed ten of thousands of Indian forces in IoK before voting takes place.

“We have made elaborate security arrangements for peaceful polling,” Swayam Prakash Pani, inspector general of the local police force said.

All civilian vehicles have been banned from Srinagar’s main boulevard, which leads to a poll material distribution centre.

Across the city, police and paramilitary troops in combat fatigues and wielding automatic rifles have been deployed, including along the banks of the Jhelum river that winds through Srinagar.

Barbed wire barricades have been erected and police have issued traffic advisories asking residents to avoid parts of the city.

Many residents have simply opted to stay home, with the traffic in the city dominated by troops and polling staff moving in military vehicles.

A local private transport operator said the government had hired more than 3,000 vehicles to ferry polling officials around parts of the occupied area during voting.

Security measures taken after the Pulwama attack have stirred some resentment, in particular new restrictions on a 200-kilometre stretch of key highway that runs north-south in the state.

After the attack, the stretch of road was ordered closed every Sunday and Wednesday while the Indian government forces move along it.

Earlier this month, a patient died inside an ambulance that was forced to stop on the highway as an Indian police convoy moved along it.

On Wednesday, authorities briefly lifted the restrictions, but they are otherwise expected to remain in place until the elections are over.

But the vote also comes against the backdrop of a bitter war of words between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party and pro-India politicians in IoK over two contentious constitutional articles.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has long sought to repeal Articles 370 and 35A, which give residents of IoK exclusive access to local land, state government jobs and higher education spots.

Opponents argue that the articles give it a status that sets it apart from the rest of India.

But supporters of the articles say their repeal would risk changing the demographics of IoK.

They also accuse Modi of exploiting tensions in the war-torn valley as he bids to pander to nationalist Hindu voters.

The prime minister — who is seeking a second term from the country’s 900 million voters in the record-breaking election — campaigned only in Hindu-majority parts of IoK.

Another five days of voting strung out over several weeks will follow Thursday’s polls, with results expected on May 23.

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