By Sarwar Kashani and Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Aug 18 (EFE).- India’s move to register up to 2.5 million outside voters in Kashmir has drawn angry reactions from locals, with experts warning that the controversial move may permanently alter the electoral rolls of the disputed region.
Kashmiris are concerned that the move is part of a bigger Indian strategy to shift the demographics of the Muslim-majority territory, which has been without an elected government for more than four years.
Hirdesh Kumar, Kashmir’s top electoral officer, told reporters on Wednesday that he anticipated “an addition of 2 to 2.5 million additional voters in the final (electoral) list,” to be finalized before local elections at the end of the year.
If implemented, the new, temporary electorates may expand the existing 7.6 million voter count by more than 33 percent in the contested region, which is claimed in full but ruled in part by South Asian nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan.
The man on the street and local politicians are wary of the move, which they say is intended to lure in outsiders and vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“They (the local administration) have a single goal. They want to settle outsiders in Kashmir and disfranchise us or make our votes redundant,” Mohammed Hanif Mir, a shopkeeper in Srinagar, told EFE.
Well-known political analyst and legal scholar Sheikh Showkat Hussain could not agree more over the step that has cast aspersions over India’s claims of being a multicultural democracy.
“Admitting non-locals as voters is part of the disempowerment process of the locals that started long back,” Showkat told EFE.
What makes the move questionable, he added, is that the government has not made even a domicile certificate necessary to attain a voter card, which means any non-local living temporarily in Kashmir would be able to easily register as a voter here.
“Kashmir was an issue related to what the separatists (leaders demanding freedom from Indian rule) would call, a struggle for aspirations. It has now become a struggle for existence, even for the pro-India regional parties,” said Showkat.
For Raashid Maqbool, a political media analyst, it is “unthinkable and incomprehensible” to let people who are not the residents of a particular place choose representatives for the natives.
“What stakes do the non-locals have here? This is a mockery of democracy in the first place,” he said.
“The decision has created panic among people who already have many apprehensions and fears.”
Kashmir, classified as the world’s most militarized zone and the largest region occupied by security forces, has been on the edge since India stripped it of its autonomy on Aug. 5, 2019.
The decision was accompanied by harsh security and a communication clampdown that confined 7 million Kashmiris to their homes for months.
Prime Minister Modi says his policies are for the benefit of ordinary Kashmiris who have suffered decades of violence and underdevelopment.
But author-commentator Gowher Geelani recalled that the decision to “rob the region of its autonomy” was not an isolated event.
“The decision taken on Aug.5, 2019, was a process to make irreversible changes in domicile rules, demographics, land, and revenue to alter the status quo and change political conditions forever,” Geelani told EFE.
“Such a decision (to let outsiders vote) will eventually render the people of Kashmir politically more disempowered than before,” he added.