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India election 2024: Why isn’t Modi’s BJP fielding candidates in Kashmir?

The absence of the prime minister’s party from the electoral fray in the Muslim-majority region is seen as a sign of its unpopularity.

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – More than a month into India’s giant seven-phase national election, the Kashmir Valley will finally begin to cast its votes in one constituency, on May 13. The Indian-administered region will vote for two other constituencies on May 20 and May 25.

But missing from the fray is India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), known for its aggressive electoral ambitions, win-at-all-costs approach and aspirations of breaking ground in parts of the country where it has traditionally not had much success.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has not fielded candidates in any of the three seats in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

Experts and rivals argue the Hindu majoritarian party wants to avoid an outcome that may challenge its claims of bringing development and peace to the Himalayan region, which has seen decades of armed rebellion against Indian rule.

The BJP denies that it has anything to hide and insists the region has changed for the better since Modi’s government in 2019 scrapped Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had granted a measure of autonomy to Indian-administered Kashmir. New Delhi also split the region into two federally-governed territories: Jammu and Kashmir as well as Ladakh.

Some analysts view the 2024 elections in Kashmir as a referendum on those 2019 moves, which the BJP claimed had widespread support in the disputed region. So why did the party not field candidates in the Kashmir valley?

Al Jazeera spoke to more than a dozen residents and experts in the Kashmir Valley to try to answer this question. One key thread