India’s Election Commission on Tuesday ordered that votes be re-cast Thursday at dozens of polling sites in Kashmir marred by violence during parliamentary by-elections over the weekend.
Meanwhile, a region-wide economic shutdown sponsored by Kashmiri separatists remained in place for a second day to protest the alleged killings of eight civilians by police during anti-India demonstrations on Sunday.
Widespread violence erupted between protesters and government forces in the Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts of the insurgency-torn region during by-elections for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency.
The violence, which left more than 130 civilians injured, has forced the Election Commission to postpone the Anantnag district elections, scheduled for Wednesday, until May 25, commission officials said. It also ordered that polls be open again at 38 voting stations in Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts on Thursday.
Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu said the Election Commission’s decision to re-do the voting was taken for centers “where polling was hit by violence,” according to The Hindu. Most of the 38 voting stations are in Budgam district.
Sunday’s violence occurred after anti-India protesters ransacked polling booths, police said, adding that a huge number of security forces had been deployed across the disputed region to prevent the situation from escalating.
“The situation is largely under control now. There was no incident of violence anywhere in the region today. I hope better sense will prevail and the situation will return to normal soon” S.P. Vaid, Indian Kashmir’s director general of police, told BenarNews.
Broadband internet service, which was snapped across the region on Sunday in the wake of the violence, were restored on Tuesday evening, Vaid said. But mobile internet services remained blocked to prevent people from organizing protests.
Less than 7 percent of Kashmiris came out to vote on Sunday, the lowest voter turnout in Jammu and Kashmir state in 27 years.
On Monday, unidentified miscreants allegedly set ablaze two schools in south Kashmir’s Shopian and Pulwama districts.
“The schools were designated as polling stations. They were torched around midnight on Monday,” Mohammad Sadiq, Shopian’s chief education officer, told BenarNews.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, has been grappling with a separatist insurgency that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the late 1980s.
India has on several occasions blamed Pakistan, its arch-rival since the bloody partition of the sub-continent in 1947, for backing separatists in Kashmir. Pakistan repeatedly denied this charge, saying the struggle in Kashmir is a result of the Indian government’s oppressive rule in the region.
Last month Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant outfit, and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Kashmir’s largest separatist faction, allegedly pasted posters in several districts urging people not to vote in these by-elections.
The elections were touted to be a test for the state’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling coalition. It was sharply criticized after violence erupted across the region following the killing of an HM leader in July 2016.
More than 100 people were killed and 10,000 injured, including about 4,000 security personnel and at least 6,000 civilians, in street clashed between anti-India protesters and government forces from July to November.
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a political organization that backs the demand for freedom from Indian rule, described the low turnout of voters as an “exemplary boycott” of the by-polls and a “referendum against the illegal occupation of Kashmir by India.”
“… Even 5 percent of Kashmiris are not with India and these stooges,” JKLF chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik said in a statement.
“Indian rulers, their stooges and occupational forces cannot force Kashmiris into submission by [their] killing spree, maiming and other oppressive measures.
“From the last seven months hundred of our kith and kin are being killed, thousands are being maimed and blinded but the resilience of Kashmiris has not been shaken and our resistance remains steadfast as ever,” Malik said.
India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP backed the postponement of the Anantnag district polls, while urging the Election Commission to cancel elections in Kashmir for the next two years.
“With the ruckus that is happening in Kashmir, Election Commission of Insia should cancel the elections for at least two years so that peace prevails and violence issues are sorted out,” senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy told Indian news agency ANI.