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Election in India: Narendra Modi's party is notably absent in Kashmir where the population is beginning to trust democracy | World News

Election in India: Narendra Modi's party is notably absent in Kashmir where the population is beginning to trust democracy |  World News
Election in India: Narendra Modi's party is notably absent in Kashmir where the population is beginning to trust democracy |  World News


On the campaign trail, Omar Abdullah – a third-generation politician and scion of Kashmir’s first family – is always in a hurry.

The 54-year-old is running for a seat in the Indian parliament from Baramulla in north Kashmir.

With more than a million voters to speak to, Mr. Abdullah embarked on a grueling 10-hour campaign, trying to reach as many voters as possible.

As head of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), he added the responsibility of campaigning for other JKNC candidates.

Once the only Muslim-majority state in the country, Kashmir was stripped of its special status on August 5, 2019.

Its legislative assembly was disbanded and the state was downgraded to a Union Territory, placing it directly under the control of the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi government.

This decision was deeply unpopular with the population.

In an interview at his family home in the town of Gulmarg, Mr Abdullah told Sky News that special status protections had “basically saved our identity, they saved our land and our jobs, they saved pretty much our existence”.

In India's previous elections, Prime Minister Modi campaigned across the country to remove special status (Article 370) and restore security to the region.

However, Mr Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have decided not to contest this year's general elections.

Omar Abdullah speaks in Baramulla
Omar Abdullah speaks in Baramulla

Mr Abdullah says: “A party (BJP) which unsuccessfully contested all elections (in Kashmir) since 1996 has completely disappeared this time.

“If what they did is so popular, why wouldn’t they take this opportunity to present their candidates in this election?

“Since it's a Muslim-majority region, they would have to field Muslim candidates, which could have somehow affected their discourse in the rest of the country. That's a possibility.

“Or the second is that what they did in 2019 was deeply unpopular and doesn’t want to be proven by votes.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Srinagar, Kashmir, in March.  Photo: AP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Srinagar, Kashmir, in March. Photo: AP

Mr. Abdullah's campaign is essentially about self-respect, protection of the land and preservation of Kashmiri identity.

Under the special status, property, jobs, scholarships and other privileges were protected for domiciled Kashmiris.

Concerns about high unemployment, inflation and the cost of living are things people talk about, but the overarching theme is the loss of Kashmir's distinctive character.

The democratic process, which suffered decades of conflict, is gradually resuming.

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Omar Abdullah appears at an election event in Baramulla
Omar Abdullah appears at an election event in Baramulla

More than 38% voted for Srinagar seat in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this week – the highest amount in 35 years.

People are enthusiastic about participating in political campaigns and rallies.

Political analyst Bashir Manzar says: “Local residents are not involved in decision-making or consulted whenever laws and regulations are made. They therefore feel excluded, voiceless and considerably powerless. , our voices matter, our aspirations matter.

“Moreover, the influence of armed activists and leaders who called for boycotts and strikes has diminished significantly.”

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These elections are a test for new democratic exercises, an opportunity they have eagerly seized.

But the jury is out that anyone associated with Mr. Modi's government is shunned, and voters express that opinion in hushed tones — for fear of reprisal.

At a market, trader Abdul Gani said: “Even if we make a small protest, the next day we are taken back. Here we have to remain silent. We cannot say anything.”

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Another man, Gulam Batt, joins us and says: “I talk to someone like you after many years, I feel there is some normality. But I'm afraid, maybe at night someone will come and say 'you spoke, come to prison'.”

People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Waheed Para, 34, who was contesting the Srinagar seat, knows the risks all too well.

He was imprisoned for years on terrorism charges and said: “I take a huge risk when I talk to you, but then someone has to stand up and take a risk to represent our own people.”

“We are not doing anything unconstitutional or anti-India. We want the dignity of Kashmiris to be intact.”

Dal Lake in Srinagar
Dal Lake in Srinagar

Kashmir is a symbolic and very important region over which India and Pakistan, great rivals, have gone to war.

It's called a nuclear flash point. It is one of the most militarized zones in the region.

The elections have also increased security concerns, with more troops on the ground.

It is imperative that the government and the electoral apparatus organize free and fair elections.

“People feel suffocated, there is a cycle of silence that has lasted for five or six years. This election is in a way an act of healing people,” says Mr. Para.

Kashmiris are grappling with decades of militancy, unrest and betrayals at the hands of political regimes in Srinagar and New Delhi, which have left them skeptical.

Although there were some cases of violence, mainly against security forces, their frequency decreased significantly, including cases of boycotts and stone throwing.

They are green shoots of people ready to put their trust in democracy for a better future.




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