The Indian government has arrested at least 75 Kashmiri political leaders and activists to forestall political unrest after an alliance of Kashmir’s regional political parties won local elections, leaders and a police official said on Saturday.
The District Development Council elections, concluded early this week, were the first local polls since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the special status of the Muslim-majority region last year.
New Delhi then cracked down on the opposition and rounded up hundreds of people to preempt protests and violence.
The latest detentions, which include separatist leaders and members of the banned Jamat-e-Islami group, were for preventive custody, said a senior police official, who asked not to be identified.
But Imran Nabi Dar, spokesman for the National Conference, a regional party and a key member of the alliance, said the detentions undermine the verdict of the people.
Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister and head of the National Conference, said, “The alliance’s victory shows that Kashmiris have not accepted Modi’s decision to end Kashmir’s special status.”
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which is pro-India but favours self-governance in Kashmir, won 112 of a total of 280 seats in the local elections, which were held in a staggered eight-phase process from November 28 through December 19.
Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 74 seats with just three of those in the Kashmir Valley.
Indian authorities have kept a tight grip on Kashmir since revoking its autonomy in August 2019 and have arrested most separatist leaders, who in the past have called for a boycott of elections.
New Delhi has annulled Kashmir’s constitution, split the area into two federal territories – Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir – and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.
The Kashmir-based politicians said the election results made it clear that Kashmiri people have rejected last year’s decision.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan with both claiming the region in its entirety.
Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of sponsoring Kashmiri separatist fighters, a charge Pakistan denies. Tens of thousands of civilians, fighters and government forces have been killed in the conflict.