Indian Kashmir Votes, Modi Eyeing Power

Indian Kashmir Votes, Modi Eyeing Power
Indian Kashmir Votes, Modi Eyeing Power

Indian Kashmir headed to the polls Tuesday under tight security, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party eyeing power for the first time in the tense and disputed Muslim-majority state.

Voters lined up in 15 heavily guarded constituencies in the first stage of staggered elections in the Himalayan region, claimed by both India and Pakistan and the scene of two wars between the rival neighbors, the AFP reported.

More than one million residents were eligible to vote in seats across the region, including near the de-facto border that divides Kashmir and in remote Ladakh, home to mostly Buddhists.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is staging a bold attempt to seize control of the Jammu and Kashmir state’s 87-member assembly, a move that would have been unthinkable until very recently.

The party has traditionally had no base in the Kashmir Valley, where residents’ resentment against Indian rule runs high.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or for its merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the violence.

But Modi’s landslide win at national elections in May and a meltdown in support for incumbent Abdullah after deadly floods in September have given the BJP hope of a breakthrough.

  Media Blitzkrieg

Separatist hardliners have called for a boycott of the vote, a move that could play to the BJP’s advantage. Hindus are a minority in Kashmir.

The BJP has staged a major media campaign, with newspapers in English and Urdu running large advertisements Tuesday calling on voters to “Come let’s go with Modi”.

Two hours after polls opened at 10:00 am, voter turnout had crossed 15 percent, according to the Election Commission.

Thousands of soldiers have been deployed in and around polling stations amid fears of street protests or militant attacks.

Most separatists have either been arrested or confined to their houses in the lead-up to the election, while police have also detained dozens of youths.

Jammu and Kashmir will vote in five phases, with results due on December 23.

Elections were also being held Tuesday in the insurgency-wracked and impoverished central state of Jharkhand, where the BJP is also attempting to seize power.