Kashmir votes in first major poll after abrogation of Article 370

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Kashmir Vote Seen as Litmus Test for Kashmir Reorganization
Kashmir Election (Photo - Web)

Monday’s polling for the Lok Sabha elections in Srinagar constituency is being viewed as a key test of public opinion on the abrogation of Article 370 and reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories in 2019.

The election marks the first major democratic exercise in the region since the BJP government’s move to revoke the former state’s special constitutional status and bifurcate it into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Major Kashmiri parties like the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party have framed the polls as a “referendum” on the Center’s decisions related to J&K. Party leaders including Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah have asserted that “roads, electricity and water” are not the main issues, urging voters to use the election to voice their stance on the loss of statehood and stripping of semi-autonomous powers.

The Election Commission has even sought clarification from PDP’s Srinagar candidate Waheed-ur-Rehman Para over his characterization of the vote as a referendum.

Significantly, the poll comes amid vastly changed political dynamics in the erstwhile state. A crackdown has led to the elimination of many militant commanders, arrests of Pak-backed separatist leaders like Yasin Malik, and banning of several organizations. The era of violent protests, stone-pelting and shutdowns has waned.

Separatists, who traditionally enforced poll boycotts through threats and violence, have remained largely subdued this year. No boycott calls or protests have marred the campaigning so far.

All eyes will now be on the voter turnout figures from Srinagar, which could prove a bellwether for participation levels in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. Turnouts plunged to single digits through the 1990s due to militancy but had improved somewhat in recent elections before 2019.

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