Elections for 87 members of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) are being held in Jammu & Kashmir, while the separatist leaders and militant groups of the state have called for a boycott of the elections. The state will vote in five phases, with the results due on December 23rd. Voting for the first three phases has been completed; voting for 4th phase will be held on 14th December and for the 5th Phase on 20th December. According to the Indian Election Commission statement, Kashmir observed 70% turnout in the first two phases of the election and 58% in the third phase of the election.
The state of Jammu & Kashmir has a special status within the union government of India, under article 370 of the constitution of India. Under the mentioned article, the state of Jammu & Kashmir enjoys a special autonomy, due to which the Indian government has direct legislative powers only in the matters of defence and foreign policy.
In the elections held in 2008, the National Conference lead by Omer Abdullah won 28 seats, People’s Democratic Party headed by Mehbooba Mufti secured 21 seats, the Congress won 17, BJP registered their win on 11, and others won 10 seats.
After a clear majority win in the Indian general elections in May, Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is participating in the elections with a mission to bag more than 44 seats, in order to win power for the first time in the tense Muslim-majority state. The BJP traditionally has no roots in the Kashmir Valley, where people are disgruntled at the Indian rule.
It was reported from different parts of South Kashmir (Zawoora, Kellar and Manloo) that the Indian Army stormed the houses of residents at late hours, dragged youth out of their homes and compelled them to paste election posters and banners of the BJP in different localities of the district.
In many areas of Jammu & Kashmir the turnout was bottom low with very few votes cast. In some areas where the local leaders including Mirwaiz Umer Frooq were busy in the rehabilitation of flood affected people, limited number of people did come out to cast their vote, to counter the fear of BJP’s victory in the elections, however, the turnout was still very low, unlike what the Indian media has been projecting. Prime Minister Modi’s party is hoping to win over independents, engineer splits in regional parties and even get those Hindus/Sikhs who fled during the revolt to register and vote, in order to accomplish BJP’s mission 44 plus seats.
During the 3rd Phase of the elections in the Tral area of south Kashmir, Muslims had boycotted the elections following calls by Kashmiri leaders but after Sikhs turned up in lines to vote for BJP, the Muslims decided to cast their votes in favour of the other regional parties, such as the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to counter BJP.
In the native village of Muhammad Afzal Guru, where during the general elections earlier this year, not a single person turned up to vote, only two votes were cast in Ghat Seet Jagir’s polling booth number 89, during the third phase of the election. As the news spread in the village regarding the two votes that were polled, angry people came out to search for the two voters, alleging they might be working for the Indian security agencies.
The only strategy that Modi knows which can help in winning the elections is the strategy of economic and structural development, which is what he promised the people of Kashmir who were asked to stay indoors during Modi’s recent visit. Srinagar observed a complete shutdown during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister and the people who were supposed to attend the address of the Prime Minister had been confined to their homes. This mantra of economic and structural development has never worked in Kashmir because the core issue of Kashmiris is not development but the daily harassment and human rights violations they have to suffer at the hands of the Indian armed forces.
The people of Kashmir and India both criticized Modi for ignoring the most controversial core issues of the valley in his address. Kashmir criticized Modi for not uttering a single word of sympathy to the grieving families of the innocent children killed by the Indian Army in Chattergam, whereas in India, the opposition was astonished at the Prime Minister’s silence on the issue of recent attack on the Indian army base in Uri where eight soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel were killed, in a daring strike by the Kashmiri militants. Modi has also been criticised for dragging the army in politics by crediting his government with the army’s action against its soldiers involved in the Chattergam killings, as an electoral tool for political gains.
While addressing the crowd at Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar during the election campaign, Prime Minister Narindra Modi repeated the famous words of Atal Behari Vapayee and promised the solution of the Kashmir dispute within “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat” (humanity, the quintessence of being Kashmiri and democracy). During his speech he accepted that since 1983, he was the only leader who dared to hold a rally at that venue, however, he did not mention the reasons why no one could dare to hold a rally in the stadium in the past two decades.
The only reason being that the Kashmiri people are not interested in elections, which can only promise them “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriayat” but not “Azaadi”. These slogans are empty without the promise of “Azaadi” and rejected by the people of Kashmir.
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