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Indian-Controlled Kashmir Votes For First Time Since Special Status Revoked

A voter casts her ballot during the first phase of local elections in Kashmir on November 28.

Indian-controlled Kashmir has been holding the first phase of staggered local civic elections amid tight security.

The vote on November 28 is the first since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government last year stripped the Muslim-majority region of semiautonomous status, annulled its separate constitution, and split it into two federal territories.

The Indian government imposed a sweeping crackdown in response to unrest triggered by the move, including curfews and communication blackouts.

To guard the vote, tens of thousands of additional soldiers are being deployed to the already heavily militarized region.

Separatists that challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir have in the past called for a boycott of elections, dubbing them an illegitimate.

Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma appealed to residents to cast their vote and “participate in the biggest festival of democracy.”

The vote is for 280 members of district development councils in a staggered eight-phase process that ends on December 19.

The council members are responsible for economic development and public welfare, but have no legislative powers.

The election is viewed largely as a contest between Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the new Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, and pro-India local Kashmiri parties under the banner of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, which seeks to restore Kashmir’s special status.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the two split in 1947 after British colonial rule. Both claim the region in its entirety.

Since 1989, rebels have been fighting against India's rule in the disputed region. Most Muslim Kashmiris want the territory to be united under Pakistani rule or to be run as a sovereign country.

New Delhi calls Kashmir militancy Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Islamabad denies the charge.

With reporting by AP, The New Indian Express, and The Times of India
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