On 24 August, the twentieth day of the Indian state’s siege in Kashmir, Rohit Kansal, the official spokesperson for the Jammu and Kashmir government, held a press briefing in the Valley’s garrisoned capital, Srinagar. “There has been an important decision taken regarding the elections to the block development councils as the next step towards operationalising and institutionalising the panchayat raj mechanism in the state,” Kansal said. With the Indian government showing no real indications of ending the crackdown in Kashmir, the proposal to hold BDC elections raises questions about its underlying motivations.
The election announcement comes in the backdrop of a catastrophic political rupture in Kashmir. On 5 August, the Indian government unilaterally de-operationalised Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which accorded a special status to the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. This decision was accompanied by a complete clamp down, which included the suspension of all means of telecommunication, a stringent curfew, and the deployment over 40,000 troops in Kashmir, in addition to the approximately 700,000 already present.
In the following weeks, news reports emerged that at least three people had been killed but Indian authorities were not issuing death certificates, and that over a hundred and fifty were injured by pellet shotguns and tear gas canisters. News reports also noted a drastic shortage of life-saving drugs across hospitals, though the government denied such claims. Rough estimates put the number of people who have been arrested at around 4,000, although this number could easily be far higher, considering that there is no proper record of arrests or detentions, especially where underage youth are being picked up. The arrested include the Kashmiri resistance leadership, pro-freedom activists and even the pro-India politicians in Kashmir.