India News

Modi and BJP See Colossal Surge of Kashmiri Counter-Votes

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have made empty promises to Kashmiris for a decade. When the government revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy under Article 370 of the constitution in 2019, Kashmiris knew it was the last straw. This year’s parliamentary elections gave them an opportunity to change things. They took it, voting in record numbers.

A voter in Eidgah, Srinagar shows the voting mark on finger. Via Sahil Mir. Used with permission.

May 23, 2024 05:52 EDT

[The authors have changed some names to protect the identities of the persons involved. Photographs are for illustration and do not necessarily represent the individuals interviewed.]

We are in the midst of India’s parliamentary elections, which will determine who has power in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament. I had the opportunity to interview a young man about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chances. The interviewee, Tahoor Ahmad, sat on a bench in Lal Chowk, a busy town square in the city of Srinagar, Kashmir. He held his face in his hand while responding to my questions.

An elderly voter poses for a picture after leaving a polling station in downtown Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

Has the BJP lost ground in the region? Will they win the primary elections? I asked Ahmad for his opinion. He did not want to answer directly; as a Kashmiri resident, he could face threats and backlash if his negative comments about the party were publicized. I assured him that he would remain anonymous, as I was only recording his voice. With this promise, he relaxed and shared his thoughts.

Ahmad says the elections are not as simple as the BJP losing ground or contesting results. In many constituencies, the BJP is not running candidates. Rather, it supports candidates from certain other parties. These include Altaf Bukhari, president of the Apni Party, and Sajad Lone, chairman of the People’s Conference.

“Everyone knows the fact that BJP is supporting both the parties, but these parties are declining the claims,” Ahmad said. “Now after the Lok Sabha elections in Srinagar, it’s clear that BJP has supported these parties, as yesterday a Kashmiri Pandit and a BJP member gave this message clearly to local media that BJP supporters are being ordered by higher-ups to cast their vote” in this way.

A queue of voters young and elderly wait at a polling station in Soura, Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

Ahmad continued: “The BJP has not filed their nomination in Kashmir directly but have indirectly filed for the Apni Party and People’s Conference along with the Azad Democratic Party. They have realized that they have lost the electoral grip in Kashmir on ground zero. The BJP has ceased democracy here in the Valley and no one here is ready to speak against them.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is finding himself entangled in a political quagmire in Kashmir. It is widely expected that Modi will win a third term in the parliamentary elections. Modi’s recent campaign has been rife with anti-Muslim rhetoric, causing concern in Muslim-majority areas like Kashmir. It appears he wants to solidify a Hindu majority in India.

During a rally in Srinagar after Modi’s first visit in March 2024, he assured the crowd that he was striving to win their hearts. However, reports suggest that many attendees were government employees or BJP workers, seemingly coerced into participation under the threat of job loss.

Voters come and go at a polling station in Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

This time is particularly critical for Jammu and Kashmir. In the past, calls from separatist leaders could shut down the region, but now those calls have lost significance. Elections, once seen as a means to protest, have become another tool for politicians to pursue their agendas.

After many years, people, especially Muslims, are eager to vote against Modi’s unfulfilled promises and fake commitments.

Frustration with the BJP’s broken promises

The BJP’s strategy to secure electoral dominance backfired, revealing deep-rooted discontent among Kashmiri residents. The party sparked controversy in the region when it chose not to field candidates in Kashmir. Local residents say it is part of a grand plan to secure 370 seats in the general elections. This symbolic gesture is linked to the contentious abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which revoked Kashmir’s autonomy in 2019. This move remains extremely unpopular with Kashmiris.

A long queue of voters forms outside a polling station in Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

As the elections draw to a close, the move has encountered formidable obstacles. The party has struggled to gain ground in the region. The division of Kashmir into two union territories — Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir — further complicated the electoral landscape, fueling tensions and widening societal rifts.

Khalid Ahmad, a middle-aged local from Srinagar, commented on the BJP’s past vows. It has promised to create jobs each year starting in 2014, when it rose to power. But the party has never delivered.

“The BJP promised 20 million jobs per year from 2014, and nothing such has happened as of now,” Khalid stated. “It seemed to be a false promise, as India tops the unemployment list globally and Modi can only give fake promises and nothing else.”

A satisfied senior poses for a picture after voting in Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

“We have many grievances like unscheduled power cuts, the high bills because of smart meters and other issues … which can be resolved only if we choose our representative today, and with the hope that our representative will resolve our grievances,” said Roohi Ismail, a voter at the polling station in Nowhatta, Srinagar.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference has historically issued calls boycotting elections in Kashmir. This time, however, it did not. Mirwaiz Mohammad Umar Farooq, Kashmir’s chief religious cleric, explained the situation: The Hurriyat was “not against the idea of elections” in the region, because of “serious alterations in the ground situation” following the BJP-led government’s abolition of Article 370. “Under these changed circumstances, issuing a boycott call, unlike before 2019, does not seem to carry the sense and effect that it did before. Besides, the people of J&K, baptised by fire from decades-old conflict, have gained enough political maturity and wisdom to know what best to do in the current situation,” Mirwaiz stated.

I spoke to an eager voter in the Sonwar area of Srinagar. “It’s my first vote and I am excited to cast it today,” he said. “As I came out from my home today, there was a hope that with today’s vote, something will change here in [the] Valley. We have witnessed many things in Kashmir … BJP has lost ground in Kashmir, and that’s the reason [it] didn’t contest [the] election here. They have failed to resolve issues [for the] people.”

A young man poses for a picture after voting in Zadibal, Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

Srinagar’s constituency is a game changer

The Srinagar Parliamentary Constituency has the highest number of candidates compared to other segments in Kashmir. It witnessed an interesting showdown on May 13, when the 1.74 million-strong electorate cast votes in five districts of the Valley.

Tanvir Sadiq, the Chief Spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, addressed local media. “This election is important as people have faith in democracy,” he said. “What happened in 2019 they are against, and people [want] development. The overall scenario about [the] Lok Sabha elections in Srinagar suggested that people have come out from [their] houses and have cast their vote.” Ergo, those who oppose the repeal of Article 370 and vote against it will win this election.

Voters line up outside a polling station in Khanyar, Srinagar. Photo by Sahil Mir.

Bukhari shared his thanks to the voters on Facebook: “Gratitude overflows to the voters of Srinagar Parliamentary seat for their historic participation, a testament to the resilience of democracy. Heartfelt thanks to the Election Commission of India, UT administration J&K and all those involved for ensuring a smooth and hassle-free process throughout the day. Kudos to our J&K Apni Party leaders, workers and well-wishers also for their tireless efforts to mobilize the voters. Due thanks also to the Chief Electoral Officer J&K for ensuring transparent and smooth conduct of the process. This monumental turnout reflects a renewed faith in the democratic process. Let’s cherish this win-win situation for our country’s democratic ethos.”

Election data revealed that Srinagar experienced a 37.99% voter turnout. Chadoora, Charar-i-Sharief, Ganderbal, Khan Sahib and the Shopian Assembly constituency recorded a turnout of over 45%; Kangan topped them all with a 58.80% turnout. As expressed on DailyExcelsior, “The fourth phase of voting for General Elections to 18th Lok Sabha concluded peacefully … with 37.99 % voting in the districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal, Pulwama and Budgam and Shopian partly.”

A woman poses for a picture after voting in Srinagar’s Rainawari area. Photo by Sahil Mir.

Officials claim this is the highest election turnout in decades. But will it prompt real change? India will have its answer when the parliamentary elections close on June 4.

[Lee Thompson-Kolar edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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