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First Major Poll In Kashmir Since 2019 Ends With High-Turnout Last Phase

25.05.2024 20:12

Former chief minister in fray accuses authorities of detaining her supporters.

Elections for the five parliamentary seats of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region ended on Saturday with a high-turnout last phase of polling in a southern constituency.

This was the first major election after Aug. 5, 2019 when the Indian government scrapped the region's autonomy.

The Anantnag-Rajouri constituency (formerly Anantnag constituency) came into being after the redrawing of electoral boundaries in 2022, which many Kashmiri parties said was aimed at denting their electoral advantage.

Earlier, the constituency consisted exclusively of assembly segments with overwhelming majority ethnic Kashmiri Muslim population and its boundaries were entirely in Kashmir Valley. But the redrawing has added nearly 800,000 people from other religious and ethnic groups, mainly Gujjar, and Pahari Hindus and Muslims.

The Hindu nationalist government in February this year granted Pahari community the Scheduled Tribe status, which comes with reservations in jobs and other benefits. Pollsters believe the move could benefit the allies of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has not fielded any candidate in the Muslim-majority Kashmir province but is likely to win the two seats of the Hindu-majority Jammu province.

Saturday's polling will decide the fate of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti -- the only woman chief minister in the region's history -- of the People's Democratic Party.

Mufti held a sit-in protest in her native Bijbehara region against the detention of her party workers and polling agents, whom the police described as "Over Ground Workers," a term they frequently use for sympathizers and supporters of militants. She said the detention was aimed at intimidating her supporters in the constituency.

She told the media that the authorities were "afraid that Mehbooba might be elected to the parliament and she will raise issues of the people."

Her main challengers for the seat are Mian Altaf, a former minister and distinguished Gujjar community leader, and Zafar Manhas, who belongs to Pahari community. Manhas is a member of Apni Party, which is backed by the BJP.

Southern districts have been at the center of a resurgent militancy, which culminated in the mass uprising of 2016 after the killing of a militant commander, Burhan Wani. After 2019, civilian protests have died down and the number of militancy-related incidents fallen significantly.

Jammu and Kashmir will send five parliamentarians to the 543-seat Indian parliament -- three from Kashmir province and two from Jammu.

Polls for the two Jammu seats, Srinagar and Baramulla had already been completed in the earlier phases of the multi-phase polls.

All phases saw higher turnouts than earlier elections held since 1996, which were marked by low or very low turnouts due to boycott calls by pro-freedom parties. No such boycott call was given this time as most of the upper-rung pro-freedom leaders are in jail and their supporters live under the threat of being jailed.

In terms of numbers, the five seats from the region are not significant but in the backdrop of the Aug. 5 decision, they have a comparatively greater symbolic value. This was evident from the campaigning, which centered around the scrapping and its larger political ramifications. -

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