SRINAGAR: In the run up to the by-polls for two Lok Sabha seats, authorities have launched a crackdown with at least two dozen freedom protesters, and the Hurriyat leaders and activists held in Kashmir Valley this week.

According to reports and police sources, at least two dozen Hurriyat leaders, activists as well as freedom protesters have been detained from Pulwama and Srinagar districts "to ensure smooth conduct of elections" to be held next month.

"Anyone trying to disturb the peace will not be spared. Security measures will be heightened in the Valley and all precautionary measures will be taken so as to ensure that the elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere," a senior J&K Police officer said, wishing anonymity.

Top Hurriyat leadership, including Syed Ali Geelani and JKLF chief Yasin Malik who have appealed people to boycott the election, have already been either house-arrested or put behind bars ahead of the election in Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies on April 9 and 12 respectively.

"Night raids have returned to haunt residents in south Kashmir with dozens of youngsters, many of them students, fleeing from their homes in order to escape the police dragnet. Entire population in our area has been left terrorized," a resident of Pulwama district told The Citizen.

The campaigning for the elections has so far remained a low-key affair with all the political parties forced to organize meetings with their workers mostly behind the four walls of government properties as Kashmir Valley remains tense due to heightened insurgency-related violence following last year's uprising.

At a recent meeting in south Kashmir, Tasaduq Mufti, brother of J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told his party workers that they should "not risk their lives" to garner votes. The ace cinematographer, who joined PDP earlier this year, is contesting the by-polls against Congress's GA Mir from Anantnag.

"There is little enthusiasm among people. Due to prevaling situation, it is becoming difficult to reach out to people, especially in south Kashmir. We are now organising secret meetings with workers at block and district level ahead of the election," a senior PDP leader told The Citizen.

The Anantnag and Srinagar Lok Sabha seats, previously held by the PDP, fell vacant after the resignation of the incumbent members, Mehbooba Mufti and Tariq Karra. Ms Mufti resigned to take over the reins of J&K while Karra parted ways from his party and joined Congress.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)