SRINAGAR - A new rule that allows new residents of the contested Jammu and Kashmir region to register as voters has angered political parties who say it is an attempt by India to change the demographics of the Muslim-majority region.
Kashmir is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the Himalayan mountain territory.
India stripped its portion of the region of semi-autonomy in 2019, changing the Indian constitution to allow non-Kashmiris to vote and own land there.
The new rule, introduced by electoral authorities in one of the region's 20 districts on Tuesday, allows those who have been living in Kashmir for a year or more to register as voters, in contrast with the earlier rule which enfranchised only people who resided in the region in 1947, or their descendants.
Political parties opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party fear that the new rule will be replicated in other districts and say this is an attempt to change the demography of the region in the favour of Hindus.
"The government is going ahead with its plan to add 25 lakh (2.5 million) non-local voters in J&K and we continue to oppose this move," the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, one of the main parties in the state, tweeted late on Tuesday.
Former Chief Minister and J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti also criticised the rule, calling it "an attempt to create religious & regional divisions between Jammu & Kashmir."
Authorities are in the process of revising voter lists in all 20 Kashmir electoral districts and federal interior minister Amit Shah said last week elections would be conducted once the revised lists were published.
Kashmir last voted in 2019, in India's parliamentary election, a few months before the region was stripped of its autonomy.
The Modi government said in August that it expected to add 2.5 million additional voters to Kashmir's rolls under the rule change, which would increase its electorate by more than a third above the current 7.6 million.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar, writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; editing by Mark Heinrich)