India holds village council polls in occupied Kashmir despite lockdown, boycott by parties – World

Village council elections were held on Thursday in Kashmir occupied by India, with the arrest of many conventional local politicians and a boycott by most parties, which prompted expectations that the polls will install supporters of the Hindu central government led by the nationalists who revoked the semi-autonomous region. Been in August.

Indian officials hope that the election of leaders of more than 300 local councils will give credibility in the midst of a political vacuum and hold that they will better represent local interests than corrupt political officials at the state level.

Large contingents of police and paramilitary soldiers guarded the polling stations throughout the region. In some places, soldiers patrolled the streets around the polling stations. Police said no violence was reported.

Thursday's elections were boycotted by most political parties, including those whose leaders sympathized with the central government but are now in makeshift prisons or under house arrest. The main opposition party of the Indian Congress also boycotted, possibly allowing a clean sweep for the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The BJP has a very small base in the Kashmir valley, the heart of an anti-Indian insurgency of decades in the region of some 12 million people.

In Thursday's elections, members of more than 300 Building Development Councils formed last year elected leaders.
Each block includes a group of villages in Jammu and Kashmir, a state that the Parliament of India downgraded to federal territory in August, a change that will take effect on October 31.

Around 1,000 people participated in the elections. In at least 25 councils, the candidates presented themselves without opposition.

The majority of the candidates and thousands of council members, the electorate for Thursday's vote, have lived for months in hotels in Srinagar, the main city in the region, due to security concerns. In the past, cashmere fighting against the Indian government had focused on candidates.

A Kashmir village council candidate, Ghulam Hassan Rather, shows the indelible ink mark on his finger after casting his vote, outside a polling station outside Srinagar, on Thursday. – AP

Officials promote the councils, which will be responsible for allocating government funds, such as grassroots democracy. But observers say the system lacks legitimacy in Kashmir.

Political scientist Noor Ahmed Baba said that exercise, at least in theory, is an "important layer of democracy," but he questioned its realization in "extremely difficult and abnormal times."

"When most people care about their basic freedoms and livelihoods, facing overwhelming restrictions, these elections," said Baba. “This is more like completing a formality. It looks more like an artificial exercise. "

The Council elections held last December were boycotted by separatist leaders and armed Kashmir groups that challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir. Both separatists and these groups have described the elections in Kashmir as an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

About 60 percent of the 21,208 seats in the village council in the Kashmir valley are vacant because no one ran for them. The winners of another 30 percent were chosen without opposition.

Before degrading the state of Kashmir, New Delhi sent tens of thousands of additional troops to already heavily militarized regions, imposed a radical curfew, arrested thousands and cut virtually all communications.

Read also: Before the phones came back to life, Kashmir families could not even mourn their dead.

Since then, the authorities have eased some restrictions, lifting obstacles and restoring landlines and some mobile phones. Students have been encouraged to return to school and businesses to reopen, but the cashmere have stayed at home, challenging or fearing amid threats of violence.

The Modi government says that eliminating a constitutional provision that gave Kashmir some autonomy, since the independence of British rule in 1947 was necessary to grant rights to other Indian citizens, mark the beginning of greater economic development and eliminate the feeling of separation that BJP leaders say they have Cultivated the separatist movement.

But as the repression continues, the cashmere have quietly refused to resume their normal lives, confusing India at its own economic cost.

Stores have adopted new limited hours of operation early in the morning and at night. Taxi drivers have not returned to the roads.

A member of the Kashmir village council walks to cast his vote outside a polling station on the outskirts of Srinagar on Thursday. – AP

Shailendra Kumar, election director, said the government had planned the elections in June.

Holding the elections during an ongoing repression "could be a point of discussion," Kumar said, "but should we delay it for another year? I don't think so. This is a clear system governed by rules, and the rules do not ask me that evaluates mood and feelings, but facilitates the process. ”

Some cashmeres view the polls cynically as a movement to create a new political elite loyal to the Modi government that found its plans widely rejected in the region.

"Every choice here is meant to put the wool over the cashmere's eyes and create a smoke screen so everything is fine here," said Mohammed Abdullah, a university professor. "It also aims to convey to the world that India is a democracy and Kashmir is part of this vibrant democracy."

For Abdullah and other cashmere that are still recovering from changes in the region, Thursday's polls suggest otherwise.



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