By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – India scrapped on Thursday a rule granting voting rights to new residents of its Jammu and Kashmir region after widespread anger among political parties, who labelled it a bid to change the demographics of the country’s only Muslim-majority region.
Kashmir is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two of their three wars over control of the Himalayan territory.
In 2019, India stripped its part of the region of its remaining measure of autonomy, reorganising Jammu and Kashmir state into two federally-controlled territories and changing the constitution to let non-Kashmiris vote and own land there.
The rule scrapped on Thursday had been introduced just two days earlier in one district of 20 in the region.
It had allowed Indians who have lived in Kashmir for a year or more to register as voters, replacing a rule that limited the franchise only to those who had lived there in 1947 – the year that India gained independence – or their descendants.
The measure of October 11 “is withdrawn and to be treated as void”, an electoral officer in the Jammu region, Avny Lavasa, told Reuters, without giving a reason for the withdrawal.
Kashmir last voted in 2019 in national elections, a few months before it was stripped of its autonomy.
In August, the government said it expected to add 2.5 million voters to Kashmir’s rolls, which would swell the electorate by more than a third from 7.6 million now.
Kashmiris fear that any rule changes which add new voters would allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to alter the region’s make-up, stamping out a decades-long independence movement that India accuses Pakistan of stoking.
Islamabad denies that accusation, saying it only provides diplomatic and moral support for Kashmiris seeking self-determination.
Pakistan accuses India of human rights violations in the parts of Kashmir under its control, a charge New Delhi rejects.
The BJP says its policies aim to benefit ordinary Kashmiris, but the region’s political parties do not see the measure in the same light.
“The BJP’s attempts to create religious and regional divisions between Jammu and Kashmir must be thwarted,” former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is president of the J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Authorities are revising voter lists in all 20 electoral districts of Kashmir and India’s home minister, Amit Shah, said last week elections would be held following publication of the revised lists.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Writing by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Gareth Jones)