Kashmir’s Srinagar Sees Surge in Voter Turnout in First Election Since 2019

SRINAGAR, India – In a significant turnaround, voters in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir, showed up in large numbers for national elections on Monday, marking a departure from the historically low voter participation witnessed since Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomy in 2019.

Srinagar, hosting the first of the Himalayan region’s three seats up for election, witnessed an impressive turnout of nearly 36% by 5 p.m., as reported by the Election Commission. This figure represents more than double the meager 14.43% recorded in the previous polls in 2019 but falls short of the national average of approximately 62%.

Long affected by a 35-year insurgency against Indian rule that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, past elections in Kashmir were marred by boycott calls and threats of militant violence, contributing to dismal voter turnout.

With Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) opting out of the elections in Kashmir for the first time since 1996, pledging support to regional parties instead, the primary contenders are the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, both advocating for the restoration of semi-autonomy in their campaign platforms.

Kashmir remains a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, with China also holding a small but strategic area in the north. Beyond the issue of semi-autonomy, voters expressed concerns about skyrocketing prices and unemployment, echoing sentiments shared by voters nationwide.

“People are facing other issues right now, such as poverty and unemployment,” remarked 50-year-old Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, casting his vote for the first time in three decades.

Rafiqa, aged 56, emphasized the need for a change in government due to “our children being jobless,” sentiments echoed by first-time voter Rabia Akhtar, who cited a “change of government” as a decisive factor in her vote.

Bashir Ahmad Lala, aged 67, participating in his first vote in two decades, highlighted Modi’s decision to divide Jammu and Kashmir into two federally administered territories, describing it as a vote for relief from the challenges faced by the region.

Following the government’s decision in 2019, Kashmir endured a stringent lockdown, with major opposition figures detained for months. Although restrictions have eased since then, a substantial military presence persists, with over 100 militants reportedly active in the region.

Analysts and opposition parties allege that the BJP’s decision to abstain from contesting elections in Kashmir stems from fears that the outcome would contradict their narrative of a more tranquil and integrated region since 2019. Opposition leaders have also accused Modi’s administration of impeding campaign events in the lead-up to the elections.