People’s Democratic Party candidate from Anantnag, Tassaduq Mufti, on Monday appealed to the Election Commission to postpone the Lok Sabha bypoll to the constituency in view of large-scale violence during polling in Srinagar.
"My appeal to the EC is to postpone the polls till the situation improves. It is my request," Tassaduq, who is Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's younger brother, told reporters at a press conference on the premises of her Fairview residence.
Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency -- spread over four districts of Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag -- is scheduled to go to polls on Wednesday.
Two government schools designated as polling stations for Wednesday’s bypoll to Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency were set afire in the fresh spiral of violence after polling in Kashmir where prohibitory orders were on Monday imposed in Budgam and Ganderbal districts.
Asked if he would withdraw from the contest if the EC did not postpone the polls, the cinematographer-turned-politician said, "If my withdrawing helps in postponing the elections to a more favourable time, I am happy to withdraw."
He, however, said he would contest the election even if the commission rejected his appeal.
"I am contesting and I will go all the way. I am in it for a reason. The cause is to give a voice to everyone, to assess the situation and make things better," he said.
The 45-year-old PDP leader refused to comment on the opposition National Conference's charges against the state government that it had failed in providing safe environment for polls.
Mufti said he was hurt by Sunday's violence during polling in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
"I want to express my condolences (to families of) the youths who lost their lives in the violence. It is very painful and regretable. I am hurt by what happened yesterday," he said.
On the timing of his appeal, Mufti said the situation is continuously changing.
"At my level, I am not able to say what is going to happen tomorrow. When certain things happen, we have to be cognizant of the fact that these are the things that have led or gone in a certain direction," he said.
Asked if he agreed with chief minister's assertion that only five per cent people were making trouble in Kashmir, Mufti evaded a direct reply.
He also denied that violence in Kashmir was a reflection of anger against the PDP for allying with the Bharatiya Janata Party after the 2014 assembly election.
"After the alliance, Mehbooba Mufti won with a significant margin. We are all aware of that. Had it been the case, it would not have happened," he said.
Asked about the low voter turnout in Srinagar bypoll, Mufti said democracy did not function properly yesterday but it should not be seen as a victory for separatists.
"When you talk about freedom, everyone should be allowed to express. You cannot force people to vote and you cannot force people not to vote.
"Some people were not allowed to vote and for some people it was not an ideal situation (for voting). This is not how democracy should work," he said.
"How can you give credit to anyone who curtails freedom? Anyone who curtails the freedom -- be it government or separatists -- is in the wrong," he said, adding that calling for boycott of elections is not part of democracy.
"No one group can do that. Democracy is when anyone can exercise his or her right," Mufti said.
Latching on to his demand for postponement of polls, NC leader Omar Abdullah said it was an ‘indictment’ of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
‘Tassaduq’s statement is an indictment of his sister @MehboobaMufti’s government and its abject failure. How can the BJP not see this,’ the former chief minister posted on Twitter.
Omar also said that the Election Commission was well within its powers to postpone or countermand the Anantnag election but if so Mehbooba Mufti must resign and the governor should take charge.
Security forces were on Monday deployed in strength in Srinagar city, a day after eight persons were killed in firing by security forces to quell stone pelting mobs during polling for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
A police official said that a government school building was set on fire by miscreants in Paddarpora area of Shopian district late on Sunday night.
He said the school building, which was designated as polling station, suffered partial damaged in the incident.
In another incident, miscreants torched another school building in Arihal area of Pulwama district on Sunday night, the official said, adding the fire was put out by police personnel with the help of local residents.
Anantnag constituency, spread over four districts of Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag, is scheduled to go to polls on Wednesday.
Police said restriction on the assembly of four or more persons under Section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure has been imposed in Budgam and Ganderbal districts to maintain law and order.
Normal life was, meanwhile, affected across the Valley due to the strike called by separatists. Shops, fuel stations and other business establishments were shut, while attendance in banks and government offices was low, the official said.
Internet services remained suspended for the second day on Monday. Public transport was off the roads, while private transport was minimal.
Kashmir University and Islamic University of Science and Technology have postponed all examinations scheduled for Monday.