The incumbent BJP has not fielded any candidates in restive Kashmir Valley, sensing backlash from residents for the abrogation of the region’s autonomy.

India’s six-week election has entered its fourth phase including in New Delhi-administered Kashmir, where voters are expected to show their discontent with dramatic changes in territory under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Voting resumed on Monday as Modi remains popular across much of India and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to win the poll when it concludes early next month.

But his government’s snap decision in 2019 to bring Kashmir under direct administration by New Delhi — and the drastic security clampdown that accompanied it — have been deeply resented among the region’s residents, who will be voting for the first time since the move.

“I voted for changing the current government. It must happen for our children to have a good future,” civil servant Habibullah Parray told AFP

“Everywhere you go in Kashmir today you find people from outside in charge. Everyone wants that to change.”

Armed opposition groups against the Indian administration have waged an insurgency since 1989 on the side of the frontier administered by New Delhi, demanding either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The Indian-administered portion of the territory was brought under direct administration five years ago, a move that saw the mass arrest of local political leaders and a months-long telecommunications blackout to forestall expected protests.

Modi’s government says its cancelling of Kashmir’s special status has brought “peace and development”, and it has consistently claimed the move was supported by Kashmiris.

But his party has not fielded any candidates in the Kashmir valley for the first time since 1996, and experts say the BJP would have been roundly defeated if it had.

“They would lose, simple as that,” political analyst and historian Sidiq Wahid told AFP, adding that Kashmiris saw the vote as a “referendum” on Modi’s policies.

The BJP has appealed to voters to instead support smaller and newly created parties that have publicly aligned with Modi’s policies.

But voters are expected to back one of two established Kashmiri political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party and National Conference, calling for the Modi government’s changes to be reversed.

“What we’re telling voters now is that you have to make your voice heard,” said former chief minister Omar Abdullah, whose National Conference party is campaigning to restore New Delhi-administered Kashmir’s former semi-autonomy.

“The point of view that we want people to send out is that what happened is unacceptable to them,” he told AFP.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. Both countries fought two wars over control of the Himalayan region. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians in the decades since.

Nearly one billion voters

India’s election is conducted in seven phases over six weeks to ease the immense logistical burden of staging the democratic exercise in the world’s most populous country.

More than 968 million people are eligible to vote in India’s election, with the final round of polling on June 1 and results expected three days later.

Turnout so far has declined significantly from the last national poll in 2019, according to election commission figures.

Analysts have blamed widespread expectations that Modi will easily win a third term and hotter-than-average temperatures heading into the summer.

India’s weather bureau has forecast more hot spells in May and the election commission formed a taskforce last month to review the impact of heat and humidity before each round of voting.


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