Indian held Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar voted Sunday in continuing elections, where the party of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making an unprecedented bid for power. As armed police patrolled the streets in bullet-proof vests, voters queued to cast their ballots in freezing weather in occupied Srinagar and the held Kashmir Valley, where a freedom fighters campaign is centred. Some 1.4 million residents are eligible to vote in 18 seats in the latest phase of the elections in the region, where a dozen groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989.
After winning power at national elections in May, Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are trying to take control of the state’s parliament with a promise of economic development.
The BJP is fielding 32 Muslim candidates across the occupied region, where voters have so far ignored calls to boycott the election.
BJP candidate and Muslim Hina Bhat said voters might not like Modi, but like the rest of the country they believed his promise of economic prosperity. “People will support Modi because now, like Muslims in India outside Kashmir, they know he delivers,” the dentist turned politician said. “The local parties have treated Kashmiri people like cattle,” Bhat, 35, told AFP recently in an interview while campaigning in occupied Srinagar.
“Here (in Kashmir) also people know in their hearts that going with Modi is good for them,” Hina added.
The BJP has traditionally had no base in the Kashmir Valley, where resentment against Indian rule runs high.
Some analysts said Modi’s “development-only talk” in held Kashmir was a simplistic approach.
“No Indian prime minister is going to make a difference in held Kashmir unless he addresses the dispute,” said columnist Siddiq Wahid. But Hina said change would only come to the region through development and not endless talk about independence.
“It is now up to the people whether they want to sulk and crib about their situation or they want a change,” Hina said. Election results are due on December 23.