SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI (Reuters): More than 100 Kashmiris have been detained during overnight raids in the Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) ahead of nationwide elections set to be held by May, police officials said on Saturday.
Yasin Malik, the head of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz were among those detained.
The overnight arrests led to violent scenes in parts of the occupied valley, with stone-throwing protesters met by police firing tear gas.
The move comes days after a suicide car bombing killed at least 40 Indian security personnel on February 14. The Indian government has warned that it will use all options in its power to avenge the attack reportedly claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
“The arrival of more troops and the arrests of leaders and activists of separatist groups is part of an election exercise undertaken to ensure free and fair elections,” said one senior police official in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is set to seek re-election in nationwide polls that are due to be held by May.
Last week’s attack has also raised tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.
Following the attack, India retaliated by removing any trade privileges offered to Pakistan, and it is now preparing to send as many as ten thousand additional troops to the contested area, according to a letter from the country’s home ministry.
“India will exercise all instruments at its command, whether it is diplomatic or otherwise,” India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in New Delhi late on Friday. “This isn’t a one-week battle. It’s to be undertaken in various forms.”
Islamabad in turn has warned it would respond with “full force” if attacked.
A spokesperson for India’s home ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the arrests or troop deployments.
Next week India’s Supreme Court is also expected to hear a petition attempting to remove an article in the country’s constitution that prevents non-residents from moving to Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. If passed it could further escalate tensions in the region.
A spokesperson for JI said the arrests of its members were a “well designed ploy,” ahead of any such ruling.