Which is the best time for Kashmir polls?

March 9th, 2008 - 11:05 am ICT by admin  

By Binoo Joshi
Jammu, March 9 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir has to elect its new assembly before Nov 20 this year, but the authorities are finding it tough to decide on an appropriate time what with the two-month-long Amarnath pilgrimage beginning in July and the holy month of Ramadan in September, with the security considerations an added worry. According to election officials, the assembly elections will be conducted in four phases spread over two months.

The last elections in 2002 were also held in four phases, beginning in mid-August and ending by mid-October.

At least 400 companies of security personnel would be required to conduct the polls. Besides, more security is needed during the campaigning process and for protection of candidates. In the last elections, there were 709 candidates in the fray for the 87-member assembly.

The Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir is expected to attract over 200,000 pilgrims from all over the country during the pilgrimage for which adequate security arrangements have to be made.

An election process around that time would be difficult, according to the officials. The pilgrimage would conclude Aug 16 - the full moon day of Shravan month of the Hindu calendar.

Ramadan, the month of fasting, begins in early September during which Muslims don’t eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk. Eid-ul-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan will be celebrated in the first week of October.

“The religious sentiments have to be taken into consideration before finalising the election dates,” the officials said.

The authorities also fear a rise in cross border infiltration levels, as the recent heavy snowfall has damaged the barbed wire fencing on the Indian side at many places along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

The fencing was erected to check the infiltration of militants from Pakistan.

The fear of infiltration picking up in the run-up to the elections is also looming, said the officials.

The agencies are busy sifting through the militancy-related statistics and patterns for a security study. The officials have gathered the relevant data since 1990. They told IANS that the maximum number of 5,946 militancy-related incidents took place in 1995 - a year before the 1996 polls.

“Then the incidents kept declining before rising to 4,536 in 2001 - again a year before the 2002 polls.” But 2007 registered the least number of 1,058 incidents.

“The highest number of 1,424 civilian casualties was in 1996 while the least number of 399 was in 2007,” an official said quoting the data.

The highest number of casualties among security forces, of 613, was in 2001 while the same year witnessed the highest number of 2,020 terrorists killed.

According to these figures, till December 2007 there have been 66,722 militancy-related incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since militancy erupted in January 1990, with 16,685 civilians, 5,225 security force personnel and 20,501 terrorists killed.

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