India is set to hold local body elections on Thursday in Indian occupied Kashmir amid a boycott by most political parties, which have termed it “undemocratic”.
Hundreds of leaders of pro-India parties, including three former chief ministers, remain in detention since New Delhi stripped the disputed region’s autonomy on August 5.
Residents and political parties have criticised the timing of the “forced elections” as the state remains under a security lockdown and a near-complete communication blackout.
Shehla Rashid, a young Kashmiri politician, quit electoral politics earlier this month saying she did not want to “legitimise” New Delhi’s actions in Kashmir by participating in “sham electoral exercise”.
In total 26,629 village council heads will vote to elect 310 out of 316 blocks, which comprise of a group of villages, in the Muslim-majority region of seven million.
The region’s main parties such as National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and Peoples Conference and other small parties have not put up candidates, as they are opposed to the abrogation of Article 370 that granted the region special rights.
Around 60 percent village council seats remain vacant due to the boycott by the regional parties.
Most of the 1,065 candidates in the fray have been accommodated in highly guarded hotels in the main city of Srinagar hundreds of kilometres away from the villages from where they are contesting making the opposition parties to criticise the “whole process”.
On Wednesday, many of these candidates went to their villages for the first time to campaign in the closed-door meetings.
The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has backed the abrogation of Article 370, is contesting the elections for the Block Development Council (BDC) and is hoping for a major win.