Parties opposed to BJP emerge victorious in occupied Kashmir polls

Published December 24, 2020
Former chief minister of occupied Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah speaks during a meeting with his party workers a day after the District Development Council elections results in Srinagar on Wednesday. — AP
Former chief minister of occupied Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah speaks during a meeting with his party workers a day after the District Development Council elections results in Srinagar on Wednesday. — AP

SRINAGAR: An alliance of political parties opposed to India’s policies in Occupied Kashmir has almost won a majority of seats in local elections, the first since New Delhi revoked the disputed region’s semi-autonomous status and took direct control last year.

The alliance, which is pro-India but favours self-governance in held Kashmir, won 112 out of a total of 280 seats in District Development Council elections, which were held in a staggered eight-phase process from Nov 28 through Dec 19.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, won 74 seats. Independent candidates won 49 seats.

The BJP has a very small base in the Kashmir Valley, the heart of the decades-old anti-India movement where it got only three seats. Most of the other BJP seats come from four Hindu-majority districts in the Jammu area where it has support.

Alliance wins 112 and BJP 74 out of the 280 seats; Congress gets 26

Over 51 per cent of nearly 6 million eligible voters across the disputed region’s 20 districts cast their ballots, the Election Commission said, calling the vote the biggest festival of democracy. Results for a few remaining seats will be announced later.

The election is part of a process in which residents directly elect their village representatives, who then vote to form development councils for clusters of villages. Members for the larger District Development Councils are also directly elected but they have no legislative powers and are only responsible for economic development and public welfare.

India has repeatedly called such polls a vital grassroots exercise to boost development and address civic issues and a way to uproot corruption. Indian authorities have kept a tight grip on held Kashmir since revoking its autonomy in August last year and have arrested most separatist leaders, who in the past have called for a boycott of elections.

New Delhi has annulled Kashmir’s constitution, split the area into two federal territories Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.

Modi’s party flew some of its top national leaders to the disputed region and organised dozens of rallies to bolster its campaigning and broaden its base mainly in the Kashmir Valley. The BJP declared the results as a “referendum in favour of its August 2019 changes”.

Many of the BJP opponents in the alliance accused the Indian government of preventing them from campaigning and detaining some of them. Officials have denied the allegations.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2020

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