As Parts of Kashmir Valley Go To Polls, Voters Vow to Save J&K's Special Status
The BJP wants to revoke Article 370, which provides special status to the state, as well as Article 35A, which empowers the state legislature to define “permanent residents”.
Kupwara: An elderly voter completes formalities before casting his vote for the first phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, at a polling station in Kupwara district of north Kashmir, Thursday, April 11, 2019. (PTI Photo/S. Irfan)
Kupwara: As parts of north Kashmir went to polls on Thursday, most voters said they are exercising their franchise to save the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, guaranteed by Article 370 of the Constitution.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to revoke the legislation as well as Article 35A, which empowers the state legislature to define “permanent residents”.
Consisting of the three border districts of Bandipora, Kupwara and Baramulla, the constituency is spread over 1,749 polling stations with 13,12,148 voters.
“The main issue concerning us this time is the threat faced by Articles 370 and 35A,” said 55-year-old Abdul Salam Mir, who was the first person to cast a vote in Shumnagh, an off-track hamlet in Kupwara district located 115 km north of Srinagar.
“There are some parties who have malicious intentions. They want to sell Kashmiris but it is our responsibility to stop those forces and choose the right candidate who will save the Kashmiri identity,” he added.
The BJP and its allies in Kashmir want the removal of the special status of Kashmir. Even in its poll manifesto, the BJP reiterated its stand on its abrogation. The campaign in Kashmir is also centred around the same issue.
All the major parties, including National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have campaigned to save the special status. Even Sajjad Lone, a BJP ally, said his outfit is opposed to the saffron party’s stand.
The abrogation issue turned into a major controversy after BJP president Amit Shah said they are working to revoke the special status by 2020. The state’s top politicians such as Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah have said that revoking Articles 370 and 35A will end the state’s accession to India.
The National Conference has fielded Akbar Lone, an outspoken senior politician and a former minister who was the speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly. The People’s Conference has fielded retired police officer Raja Aijaz Ali. The two main contenders are Abdul Qayoom Wani of the PDP and the firebrand former independent legislator Engineer Rasheed.
This is the first parliamentary election held in the Valley following widespread violence in the 2017 bypolls of Srinagar where just 7% voting was recorded and eight people were killed.
On Thursday, voting in the constituencies was calm although clashes were reported between supporters of contesting parties in Nehama village of Kupwara. Clashes were also reported in Palhalan town of Baramulla after local youth started pelting stones at the forces, who retaliated by firing tear-gas shells.
Most voters in south Kashmir appear to be supporting the National Conference, People’s Conference or Rasheed.
Supporters of NC believe that the party will fight for the protection of Article 370 and focus on development while those rooting for PC, which is mostly based in north Kashmir, are of the opinion that it will open the party’s account in the parliament.
“The party will be able to raise the issue of north Kashmir, which remains neglected,” said Basheer Ahmad, an NC supporter.
The supporters of Rasheed, who has sought a plebiscite on the Kashmir issue, think he can raise the voice of Kashmiris in Parliament in a better way. “Our parliamentarians don’t speak. They don’t talk about the issues. It is Rasheed who can truly represent us,” said Abdula Salam Bhat of Langate.
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