Monday, 15 December 2014
Elections in Kashmir Draw Long Lines of Voters, By GARDINER HARRIS and SAMEER YASIR
Turnout neared 50 percent, election officials said. That was by far the highest level since an insurgency that began in 1989 turned the city into a ghost town on Election Day, with few people venturing out of their homes to vote.
But the rise of Narendra Modi, now India’s prime minister, has scrambled the electoral calculus across the country. Voters in Srinagar, like others in Kashmir in recent weeks, put aside the issue of Kashmiri independence to ensure that Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party of Hindu nationalists did not triumph in state assembly districts in the overwhelmingly Muslim Kashmir Valley.
“We are voting to stop the B.J.P. from coming to power and for local development,” said Asif Lone, 32, of Srinagar, as he stood in line to vote. “This vote should not be considered as a solution of the Kashmir issue.”
Although activists of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a separatist group that has long boycotted elections, marched and shouted anti-election slogans, most people ignored them.
Kashmir’s upper-caste Hindus, most of whom now live in New Delhi and Jammu after being driven out of the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s by extremist groups, are still allowed to vote in Kashmir’s elections. And many Muslims here feared that if they continued to refuse to vote, the Hindus, known as Pandits, would provide a comfortable margin of victory in several districts to the resurgent B.J.P., which has long had a difficult relationship with Muslims, said Noor Mohammad Baba, a professor of political science at the University of Kashmir.
“People might have thought that if they did not vote, the B.J.P. would benefit,” Mr. Baba said.
But Sheikh Zaffar Ahmad, 35, stood on his balcony on the second floor of his home and watched voters line up at a voting booth near his home. Mr. Ahmad’s brother was killed during the insurgency, and the sight of so many people voting in an election sponsored by India left him with mixed feelings.
“These lines don’t signify any betrayal, but an understanding that people must vote to help the local parties instead of the B.J.P.,” said Mr. Ahmad, who refused to vote. “But I hope people do not forget the thousands we have lost in the last 25 years.”
There is one more round of voting scheduled. Results are expected before the end of the year.