India’s Srinagar – A top official in India said late Wednesday that India expects to register up to 2.5 million new voters in the contested Jammu and Kashmir region, in a move that local political parties said was an attempt to influence upcoming elections.
The Muslim-majority region is claimed in its entirety but governed in part by nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars over control of the territory.
In 2019, India removed semi-autonomy from its portion of the region by amending its constitution to allow non-Kashmiris to vote and own land there.
Hirdesh Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir, told reporters on Wednesday that more than 2 million new voters are expected to be registered in the region ahead of the November local elections. The new registrants could increase the region’s voter count by more than a third, adding to the region’s existing 7.6 million voters.
“We expect (2 to 2.5 million) new voters in the final list,” Kumar said, referring to non-Kashmiris living in the region.
Kashmiris fear that the rule changes will allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to change the demographics of the region, effectively ending a decades-long independence movement.
The BJP claims that its policies in the region benefit ordinary Kashmiris.
The move has been sharply criticized by Kashmir’s main political parties.
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister and president of the J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), stated that it is intended to influence election results.
“Allowing non-locals to vote is clearly intended to sway election results. The real goal is to continue ruling J&K with an iron fist in order to disempower locals,” she wrote in a tweet.
Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister from the rival Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, was also critical of the decision.
“Is the BJP so fearful of genuine J&K voter support that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats?” he tweeted.