India is expected to register as many as 2.5 million new voters in the contested Jammu and Kashmir region, a top official said late on Wednesday, in a move local political parties said was an attempt to influence upcoming elections.
The Muslim-majority region is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory.
India stripped semi-autonomy from its portion of the region in 2019, changing the Indian constitution to allow non-Kashmiris to vote and own land there.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer Hirdesh Kumar told reporters on Wednesday that more than 2 million new voters are expected to be enrolled in the region ahead of local polls due in November. The new registrants could increase the voter count by more than a third, adding to the existing 7.6 million voters in the region.
"We are expecting an addition of (2 to 2.5 million) new voters in the final list,” Kumar said, including non-Kashmiris living in the region.
Kashmiris fear the rule changes will allow the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to alter the demographics of the region, quelling a decades-long independence movement.
The BJP says its policies in the region are for the benefit of ordinary Kashmiris.
There has been sharp criticism from the main political parties in Kashmir over the move.
Former chief minister and J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said it is aimed at influencing the election results.
“Allowing non-locals to vote is obviously to influence election results. The real aim is to continue ruling J&K with an iron fist to disempower locals,” she said in a tweet.
A second former chief minister Omar Abdullah, from the rival Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, was also critical of the decision.
“Is the BJP so insecure about support from genuine voters of J&K that it needs to import temporary voters to win seats?” he tweeted.