Kashmiri polling officials carry electronic voting machines and other election material on the eve of the second phase of India's general election outside a distribution center in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. With 900 million of India's 1.3 billion people registered to vote, the Indian national election is the world's largest democratic exercise. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
SRINAGAR, April 18: Voting began in the second phase of India’s general elections Thursday amid massive security and a lockdown in parts of the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Srinagar is one of 97 constituencies across 13 Indian states where voting was taking Thursday.
Kashmiri separatist leaders who challenge India’s sovereignty over the disputed region have called for a boycott of the vote. Most polling stations in Srinagar and Budgam areas of Kashmir looked deserted in the morning with more armed police, paramilitary soldiers and election staff present than voters.
Voting was expected to be brisk in the Hindu-dominated Udhampur constituency of the region, which is otherwise mostly Muslim.
The Indian election is taking place in seven phases over six weeks in the country of 1.3 billion people. Some 900 million people are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament.
Voting concludes on May 19 and counting is scheduled for May 23.
The election, the world’s largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
Modi has used Kashmir as one of the top issues of his campaign and played up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after the suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Anti-India unrest has risen significantly since Modi came to power in 2014 amid rise in Hindu nationalism and attacks against Muslims and other minorities.
Modi supporters say the tea-seller’s son from Gujarat state has improved the nation’s standing. But critics say his party’s Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions in India.