India gov’t dissolves Kashmir state assembly
India’s government has dissolved the Kashmir state assembly in a sudden move that could lead to fresh elections and further turmoil in the disputed region also claimed by Pakistan.
The move, which came after two rival local alliances both staked claims to form a government in the heavily-militarised region, was seen to strengthen the hand of the New Delhi government, which has ruled Kashmir directly since June and is gearing up for next year’s general election.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hand-picked governor said he dissolved the legislature late Wednesday in the absence of stable government in Jammu and Kashmir, in India’s far north.
Satya Pal Malik said late Wednesday that elections would be held “at an appropriate time so that a government with a clear mandate is duly formed”.
Malik is the first politician to be appointed governor of Jammu and Kashmir in decades, with the role traditionally reserved for non-political figures.
The Indian-administered region has been plagued for decades by political instability and an armed insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians.
Rebel groups have long fought half a million Indian troops stationed there, demanding an independent state or merger with Pakistan.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of the governing coalition in Jammu and Kashmir in June, because of what it called worsening “terrorism and violence”.
This latest move has agitated an alliance of local parties that claimed to have a majority in parliament, and a right to rule free from New Delhi’s control.
Malik dismissed their claim, saying “extensive horse-trading and possible exchange of money” had occurred and the alliance could not ensure stable government.
The BJP called for fresh polls “at the earliest”.
“J&K needs a firm administration to deal with terrorism and not a combination of terror-friendly parties,” the ruling party declared in a Twitter post late Wednesday.
– Power play –
Analysts say the BJP hope to rule in their own right in the region, and this latest move could be aimed at appearing tough on Pakistan and militancy ahead of a national election next year.
The Hindu-right party could exploit the sense of political instability as Modi campaigns for a second term in coming months, experts said.
“The BJP could sell it both ways across India, for gains in general elections,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, a political scientist at University of Kashmir.
“Now, they would say they didn’t let the local parties come together against the national interest, didn’t bow down to them,” he added.
It is unclear when a fresh local poll will be held but historically ballots have lacked credibility.
Last year just seven percent of voters turned out to elect a state representative to the national parliament. Another vacant seat in the lower house has not been filled in two years.
State assembly elections in 1987 were marred by graft and foreshadowed an armed rebellion against Indian rule that continues today.
“This (latest) move by New Delhi confirms the lack of credibility elections in Kashmir have,” Prof Siddiq Wahid, a historian and political commentator told AFP.
“It also means more confrontation between the people and the Indian state in Kashmir.”
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both countries claim the former Himalayan kingdom in its entirety.
Earlier this month gunmen killed a local BJP leader and his brother in a remote district of the region.