On the chillingly cold morning of November 28, Abdul Samad, 34, left his village Fraw Haknar, 61 kilometers away from Srinagar, the capital city of Indian-administered Kashmir, to cast his vote in the ongoing District Development Council (DDC) elections. This is the first major electoral exercise to have taken place in the area since the removal of Article 370 and Article 35A and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir state into two federal union territories on August 5, 2019.
Samad, accompanied by his wife, is a businessman. He claims that the events since August 2019 have tremendously changed the Himalayan region of Kashmir. He also believes that mainstream political parties, including the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, the National Conference, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, and the Congress party can revive the status that was abolished last year by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Narendra Modi.
The parties are united in contesting the elections against the BJP and its allies in one of the most militarized regions in the world. The parties have vowed to fight for the restoration of the special status of the region under a unified banner of the People’s Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration.
“This is the only way to bring back the special status of Kashmiris, which Narendra Modi and Amit Shah abolished without consulting the people of Kashmir,” said Samad.
But many of the voters who were standing in a queue amid tight security arrangements at a polling station in Pambai village, 74 kilometers away from the capital, on December 1, said that the electoral exercise will never bring back the special status of the region.
“We know what was taken on August 5 [last year], won’t be ever given back. We just fear boycotting elections can make the BJP government more powerful,” said Rukhsana Nabi, 24, who teaches at a local government school.
The polls are planned to be held in eight phases from November 28 to December 19 amid tight security arrangements and COVID-19 protocols.
K.K. Sharma, the election commissioner stated that “almost all booths in Kashmir are sensitive from the security point of view. Additional security arrangements have been provided at the polling stations in the region.”
Thousands of people are coming out to vote amid tight security and freezing cold temperatures in the disputed region.
Bhat Burhan is an independent multimedia journalist and can be followed on Twitter at @bhattburhan02.