Uproar in Kashmir as India allows non-locals the right to vote | election news

India’s decision to allow any Indian citizen temporarily living in Indian-administered Kashmir the right to vote has reignited anger and fears of another attempt by the Hindu nationalist government to change the demographics of its only Muslim-majority region.

The measure, announced Wednesday by the federally controlled territory’s top election official, is expected to add about 2.5 million more voters on top of the existing 7.6 million voters, a whopping 30 percent increase. .

The new voters would include Indians temporarily residing in the region, primarily Indian military personnel, government and private sector employees, and migrant workers.

“All those who did not register as voters earlier are eligible to vote after the repeal of Article 370,” said Hirdesh Kumar, adding that the provisions of the Representation of the People Law, the law that deals with conducting elections in India, it also applies. to the region

Until August 2019, voting rights in Indian-administered Kashmir were restricted only to its permanent residents, guaranteed by Article 370 of the Indian constitution which gave the disputed region, also claimed by neighboring Pakistan, an autonomy. limited. The law prohibits Indians from outside the region from settling permanently, buying land, and holding local government positions.

On August 5 of that year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, two months after winning a landslide re-election, unilaterally stripped the region of its special status by repealing the decades-old law and dividing the region into two controlled territories. by the federal government: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

It was just the beginning of a series of laws and government measures that residents say are aimed at crushing a popular movement for an independent state or merger with Pakistan. Kashmiris say the removal of Article 370 and subsequent legal measures are aimed at changing the demographics of the region.

In the years since then, the Indian government introduced a controversial domicile law that grants citizenship rights to all Indians living in the region for more than 15 years. New laws were also passed making all Indian citizens eligible to purchase land in the region.

Kumar said Wednesday that an Indian citizen is not required to have a proof of domicile or be a permanent resident to register to vote in Indian-administered Kashmir.

“Any employee, student, worker or any other person who is ordinarily resident in Jammu and Kashmir can become a voter now,” he said.

According to the 2011 census, of the 12.5 million people in Indian-administered Kashmir, Muslims make up 68.31 percent and Hindus 28.43 percent. More than seven million of these residents live in the valley, 97 percent of them Muslim.

‘Israeli politics’

Kashmiri politicians and India’s opposition parties have condemned the government’s new electoral rules.

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, described the move as the “last nail in the coffin of electoral democracy” in the region.

“They (the government) want to fraudulently attract 2.5 million voters and install some fascist rulers. They want to make demographic changes,” Mufti said.

The 63-year-old politician said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government wanted to implement a “Nazi policy of Germany or Israel” in Kashmir.

“Hitler inflicted extreme suffering on the Jews but he couldn’t erase the Jews and the same goes for Israel. No matter how much you suppress the Palestinians, you cannot erase them and their determination. The evil plans of the BJP would not succeed,” Mufti said.

The Mufti’s coalition government with the BJP fell in 2018. Since then, Indian Administered Kashmir has no elected government and is being ruled directly by New Delhi through a handpicked administrator.

Omar Abdullah, another former prime minister from the region, accused the BJP of importing voters to win seats.

“Is the BJP so insecure about the support of genuine voters from (Jammu and Kashmir) that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats? None of these things will help the BJP when the J&K folks get a chance to ply their franchise,” he tweeted.

Some experts described the government’s decision to add outsiders to the voting list in the region as the BJP’s “final solution in the Kashmir dispute”.

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh had said in July 2019, days before Article 370 was scrapped, that “Kashmir’s final resolution” was on the table and “no power on Earth can stop it” .

Redesign of the electoral map

In May this year, the Modi government announced a new electoral map for the region that residents said was aimed at disenfranchising and disempowering them.

The new map increased the number of assembly seats in the Hindu-majority Jammu area by six, from 37 to 43, while the Muslim-majority part of Kashmir received just one more: 47 in place of 46.

Experts said the move was biased in favor of Hindu-majority Jammu and accused the government of violating the universal criterion of considering the area’s population in the draw for electoral seats.

For the past seven decades, Indian Administered Kashmir was ruled by Kashmiri-based political parties and has had a Muslim Prime Minister who enjoyed political dominance of the region. However, since he came to power in 2014, Modi’s government has promised his supporters a Hindu prime minister there.

While the BJP has yet to win a single seat in the valley, the party enjoys considerable influence in the Hindu-majority areas of the Jammu region, where it won 25 of the 37 assembly seats in the 2014 election.

Since then, the right-wing party has tried to make inroads into the Muslim-majority valley. With this latest move, experts say the BJP is closer to its agenda than ever.

The process of updating the electoral rolls for the next assembly elections, which will probably take place next year, has begun, and the final list is expected to be ready in November.

Indian policemen arrest a Kashmiri man
Indian policemen detain a Kashmiri Shiite Muslim for participating in the Muharram procession in Srinagar [File: Mukhtar Khan/AP]

‘Settler colonialism’

A Kashmiri political analyst, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals, told Al Jazeera that the decision to bring in more voters has “shocked Kashmiris and the next step may be to ask them to leave their homes.”

“It will ensure the total disempowerment of the Muslim community. Already through many laws they have become a political minority,” said the analyst.

Mohamad Junaid, who teaches anthropology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in the United States, told Al Jazeera that the government’s “ultimate goal is forced demographic change, dispossession of Kashmiris and elimination of Kashmiris as a political identity. “.

“The Indian government’s actions conform to the classic methods of settler colonialism in which rights are offered to non-native settlers through executive order and not based on the democratic choice of indigenous peoples. In the last three years, all decisions on Kashmir have been made from New Delhi without the consent of the Kashmiri people,” he said.

Junaid said the latest decision to allow residents of the region to vote in local elections is driven by the BJP’s agenda to “manufacture a BJP-led regime in Kashmir that can formally endorse the 5th August 2019 decision to revoke autonomy and divide the historical state. of Jammu and Kashmir”.

“This is unprecedented in the history of Kashmir,” he said. “While foreign regimes have ruled Kashmir, they have generally not sought to replace the natives with a new population.”

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