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Kashmir votes in India's general election first time since loss of special status

A man shows his ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in India’s parliamentary elections in J&K's Pulwama District on May 13, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

Voters queued up in front of polling booths in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian-administered Kashmir, on Monday to cast their ballots in India’s general election, the first time since the revocation of the region’s special constitutional status in 2019

Nearly 1.75 million voters were eligible to vote in the Srinagar constituency on Monday, which includes the capital city of Srinagar and the important rural districts of Budgam and Ganderbal.

In the next two phases, elections will be held for the constituency of northern Baramulla district on May 20 and for the constituency of southern Anantnag-Rajouri on May 25 respectively.

In August 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration scrapped Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in a controversial move, which took away the Himalayan region’s political autonomy.

After that move, all prominent political leaders and activists in the region were put under house arrest and the presidential rule (direct governance by New Delhi) was implemented in the territory.

The main parties contesting these elections in Kashmir include the National Conference (NC) and People's Democratic Party (PDP), both local parties that have previously ruled the region.

The NC has fielded influential Shia leader and former minister Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi while the PDP is represented by the party youth president Waheed Para, both young politicians.

On the campaign trail, both candidates of rival parties accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi of doing injustice to Kashmiris by taking away the region’s semi-autonomy.

Other candidates in the fray include the Apni Party's Mohammad Ashraf Mir and the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP)'s Amir Ahmad Bhat.

Modi-led BJP opted out of elections in the Kashmir valley with senior party leader and India’s Home Minister Amit Shah saying the lotus bloom in Kashmir can wait. His statement was met with scorn from Kashmir-based parties, who said Shah and Modi knew the party would not win in Kashmir.

Before Election Day, Parra, who is contesting in Srinagar on a PDP ticket, accused a senior police officer of directing his officers to “minimize voter turnout by detaining, harassing our workers.”

“Such actions serve the interests of anti-national elements, not India,” Parra wrote on X.

Mehdi, who is Parra’s main rival, also raised similar concerns on his social media pages.

“From detention before polling day to CASO a night before the polling to arresting the polling agent from polling stations on the day of polling. Police and the administration is trying everything in their dirty book,” he wrote on X on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Srinagar constituency recorded about 35.75 percent voter turnout till 5 pm local time on Monday, India’s Election Commission said in a statement.

In the 2019 elections, the voter turnout was recorded at 14.43 percent, significantly lower than this time. In 2014, the voter turnout was 25.8 percent and in 2009 the voter turnout was 25.6 percent.

The general elections in India commenced on April 19, and the voting process is being conducted across seven phases until June 1. The counting of votes is scheduled to take place on June 4.

One of the three parliamentary seats in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, Srinagar is among the 96 seats across the country voting in phase 4 of elections for the Indian parliament.

Around 166 million voters take part in the polls across 102 constituencies in 21 states and union territories, ranging from Tamil Nadu in the south to Jammu and Kashmir in the north.

Modi-led BJP is tipped to return to power banking on the predominantly Hindu vote, pitted against the main opposition Congress and allied parties who have joined hands under the INDIA coalition.

BJP has been in power in the world’s most populated country since 2014.

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