TRAL, India (AFP) – As armed police in bullet-proof vests patrolled the tense streets of India’s only Muslim majority state, Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Avatar Singh forecast victory for the Hindu nationalists in Kashmir’s upcoming elections.
“My godfather Modi Ji’s development initiatives make me confident that I will win,” Singh said, referring to India’s new BJP prime minister while out canvassing in the town of Tral last Thursday.
Just hours later, three suspected separatist rebels were shot dead in a stark reminder of the tensions in the picturesque Himalayan region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has been the scene of two wars between the neighbours.
About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or for its merger with Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the violence.
So the idea of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP taking even a share of power in Kashmir would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.
But Modi’s landslide May general election win and a meltdown in support for the incumbent chief minister after deadly floods in September have given the BJP hope of a breakthrough. Separatist hardliners have called for boycott of the vote, a move that could play to the BJP’s advantage.
Voting begins in the five-phase election on Tuesday, with results due on December 23.