By Fayaz Bukhari and Alasdair Pal
SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – More than 100 separatists in Kashmir were detained in overnight raids, police officials said on Saturday, as part of a crackdown on groups that might cause trouble ahead of nationwide elections set to be held by May.
The move comes days after a suicide car bombing killed at least 40 Indian security personnel on Feb. 14. The Indian government has warned that it will use all options in its power to avenge the attack claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed.
“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.
“Anti-election campaigns will not be allowed and separatists will be detained to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the state,” the police official said.
Last week’s attack has also raised tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan, that both claim Kashmir in full but rule it in part. India blames Pakistan for harbouring militant groups operating in Kashmir. Pakistan has repeatedly denied the allegation.
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 seen by Reuters.
“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.
The overnight arrests in the state included those of many senior members of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), an Islamic organisation that wants Kashmir to be independent from India.
The arrests led to violent scenes in parts of Kashmir, with stone-throwing protestors met by police firing tear gas.
JeI’s leader, Dr Abdul Hamid Fayaz and Yasin Malik, the head of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) that wants independence from both India and Pakistan, were among those detained.
A spokesman 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 Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian state that contains Muslim-majority Kashmir. If passed it could further escalate tensions in the region.
A spokesman for JeI said the arrests of its members were a “well designed ploy,” ahead of any such ruling.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar and Alasdair Pal in New Delhi,; Editing by Euan Rocha and Jacqueline Wong)