India's Election Resumes Amid Kashmir Tensions

India's Election Resumes Amid Kashmir Tensions
India's Election Resumes Amid Kashmir Tensions

India's six-week election is set to resume including in Kashmir, where voters are expected to show their discontent with dramatic changes in the disputed territory under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

Modi remains popular across much of India and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is widely expected to win the poll when it concludes early next month.

But his government's snap decision in 2019 to bring Kashmir under direct rule by New Delhi -- and the drastic security clampdown that accompanied it -- have been deeply resented among the region's residents, who will be voting for the first time since the move.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. Both claim it in full and have fought two wars over control of the Himalayan region.

Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have waged an insurgency since 1989 on the side of the frontier controlled by New Delhi, demanding either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of soldiers, rebels and civilians in the decades since, including a spate of firefights between suspected rebels and security forces in the past month.

Violence has dwindled since the Indian portion of the territory was brought under direct rule five years ago, a move that saw the mass arrest of local political leaders and a months-long telecommunications blackout to forestall expected protests.

Modi's government says its canceling of Kashmir's special status has brought "peace and development", and it has consistently claimed the move was supported by Kashmiris.

But his party has not fielded any candidates in the Kashmir valley for the first time since 1996, and experts say the BJP would have been roundly defeated if it had.

India's election is conducted in seven phases over six weeks to ease the immense logistical burden of staging the democratic exercise in the world's most populous country.