June 7, 2023

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India opens voter registration to non-Kashmiris ahead of elections

Srinagar (India), 17 August. Indian officials on Wednesday announced the end of Kashmiris’ exclusive right to vote in the disputed region, opening up registration for the first time to any Indian citizen living in the territory.

The announcement is one of the most significant moves by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, a Hindu nationalist, since it revoked in 2019 the special status that allowed Indian Kashmir semi-autonomy for 70 years.

“Anyone who is ordinarily resident here can avail the opportunity to register as a voter in Jammu and Kashmir due to the representation provisions of the Act,” the region’s election director Hirdesh Kumar told a press conference.

With this, no one will need to have a Kashmiri Address Certificate to become a voter anymore.

“An employee, a student, a laborer or any foreigner who normally resides in Jammu and Kashmir can register his name in the electoral register,” explained Kumar.

Officials expect about 2.5 million new voters to register in the region, as this is the first time voter registrations have been updated since the semi-autonomous status was revoked.

“The electoral roll revision is being done for the first time after January 1, 2019, so we expect massive changes in the electoral roll as a large number of youth have attained the age of 18 or above in the last three years,” Kumar said.

Former regional government chief Mehbooba Mufti termed the move as a new attempt by New Delhi to influence the eventual outcome of the election.

“The decision to allow non-locals to vote now obviously affects the election results. The real objective is to rule Kashmir with an iron fist to wrest power from the locals,” Meghbooba criticized on Twitter.

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Kashmir is the only Indian region with a Muslim majority, and the region’s votes have always been in favor of regional leadership.

“Is BJP so insecure about voter support in Kashmir that it has to import voters to win seats? Nothing will help the BJP when the people of Kashmir get a chance to exercise their right,” former Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said, referring to Modi’s creation.

Even Sajad Lone, leader of the People’s Conference (PC) and BJP alliance in Kashmir, called the decision “dangerous”.

“This is dangerous. I don’t know what they want to achieve. This is more than a prank. Democracy is a relic, especially in the context of Kashmir,” Sajad tweeted.

Indian Kashmir has seen an independent armed insurgency for three decades and has been described as terrorist by New Delhi, in which tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, have died since 1989.

The unilateral 2019 decision split the region directly controlled by New Delhi into two territories, which Modi justified as a way to bring prosperity to a region dominated by corruption and separatism. EFE