An alliance of political parties in Indian-administered Kashmir opposed to India’s policies in the region has won a majority of seats in local polls, the first since New Delhi revoked the disputed region’s semi-autonomous status last year.
The Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which is pro-India but favors self-governance in Kashmir, won 112 of a total of 280 seats in District Development Council elections, which were held in a staggered eight-phase process from November 28 through December 19.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 74 seats. Independent candidates won 49 seats while India’s main opposition Congress party won 26 seats. The BJP has a very small base in the Kashmir Valley, where it got only three seats. Most of the other BJP seats come from four Hindu-majority districts in the Jammu area where it has significant support.
More than 51 percent of nearly six million eligible voters across the region’s 20 districts cast their ballots, the Election Commission said, calling the vote “the biggest festival of democracy”. Results for a few remaining seats will be announced later.
Sajad Lone, president of the People’s Conference, a pro-India political party, and PAGD spokesperson, told a local tv channel that the result “is a verdict in favor of the PAGD”. “Let’s hope it restarts a political process,” Lone said.
Political activities in the region came to a halt after the abrogation of Article-370 in August last year when most of the political leaders were detained in the region. “We have come together for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. People have decided that’s what matters, no matter what other parties say.”
For the first time in the region, the two main regional political parties – the National Conference that has ruled most of the last seven decades in Kashmir and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headed by former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti – had come together with other parties under PAGD to contest the elections.
The alliance, which aimed to keep BJP on the margins, works on the agenda of restoration of Kashmir’s statehood and special status. The election is part of a process in which residents directly elect their village representatives, who then vote to form development councils for clusters of villages.
Members of the larger District Development Councils are also directly elected but they have no legislative powers and are only responsible for economic development and public welfare. Indian authorities have kept a tight grip on Kashmir since revoking its autonomy in August 2019 and have arrested most separatist leaders, who in the past have called for a boycott of elections.
New Delhi has annulled Kashmir’s constitution, split the area into two federal territories – Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir – and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. The Kashmir-based politicians said the election results made it clear that Kashmiri people have rejected last year’s decision.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan with both claiming the region in its entirety.
Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of sponsoring Kashmiri separatist fighters, a charge Pakistan denies. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels, and government forces have been killed in the conflict.