IT would be superficial to consider the results of the elections to the Jammu & Kashmir assembly, declared on Dec 23 as simply an electoral result reflecting the politics of the area. It does much more than that and it is important to view its implications.
First, it marks the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ‘44 plus’ campaign to secure a majority in the 87-member assembly. Having swept Jammu in last May’s elections to the Lok Sabha, it fancied that with 37 seats from Jammu and four from Ladakh all it had to do was to win a few more in the Valley and form a government. Instead, it secured 25 seats.
All but one of its 34 candidates in the 46 constituencies in the Valley lost their security deposits.
What do the poll results portend for the future?
This marks a defeat for Prime Minister Modi personally. The Economist’s correspondent remarked on the BJP’s ‘lavish’ expenditure. What was even more revolting was the systematic recourse to deceit. Though a wreck, Article 370 of the Indian constitution, on Kashmir’s autonomy is dear to Kashmiris. The BJP has consistently advocated its abrogation; from Modi downwards an attempt was made to sideline it as a mere topic for ‘discussion’.
This ploy failed; but another succeeded. In Jammu, Modi exploited Jammu’s old complaints of ‘discrimination’ and succeeded.
The polarisation is complete. The BJP won 25 of the 37 seats in Jammu. In Buddhist-dominated Ladakh it won just one out of four seats, the Congress won the rest of whom one winner was a Muslim from Kargil. The BJP had won the parliamentary constituency there.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won 28 seats of which three came from the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu. The Congress won 12 seats. In Jammu its candidates won only in five Muslim-dominated areas. The National Conference won 15 seats; 11 from the Valley and four from Jammu.
This religious polarisation has been fostered by the Sangh Parivar since 1947. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh demanded trifurcation of the area on religious lines not realising this would yield it only two and a half of Jammu’s former six districts. What little success the BJP got in the Valley was from postal ballots and the Pandit vote; in all some 3pc of the Valley’s total vote. Of the total votes polled by the BJP in the entire area 93pc came from Jammu, 4pc from the Valley and 2pc from Ladakh. This is the net result of its frontier efforts.
Srinagar held the key to the PDP’s victory such as it is. In 2008, Syed Ali Shah Geelani gifted victory to Omar Abdullah and his National Conference (NC) by his strident call for poll boycott. Eight seats were lost to the NC, not without the aid of the centre’s ‘agencies’.
A little wiser now, he reaffirmed the call pro-forma, but none too loudly. The PDP wrested five seats from the NC in Srinagar. Significantly, it was in these eight constituencies, whose electorate felt cheated in 2008, that the upsurge that broke out in 2010 was at its fiercest.
A fractured verdict yields a hung legislature. The issues are who would the PDP (28) accept as its partner? The Congress (12) would make the 40-member coalition dependent on the independents. The result would be the same if the NC’s 15 join hands with the BJP. A PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Beig openly advocated a coalition with the BJP.
The resultant stability of 53 members in the House of 87 would be bought with a colossal loss of face, brazen betrayal of the popular verdict and the PDP’s own programme and pledges.
Equally avid for power as Beig, Omar Abdullah swallowed his pride and forgot all the things he had said of the PDP to declare to his favourite TV anchor, after the results, his readiness to kiss and make up with the PDP after all.
A day later he went further still to open parleys with the BJP which he had denounced on Dec 22. Not to be left behind the PDP also opened channels with the BJP. This is the state to which such people have reduced the politics of Kashmir.
Forty coalition partners plus four or even five independents add up to a wafer-thin majority; ever susceptible to blackmail. Most of the independents are not an inspiring lot. Failure to form a government entails governor’s rule and fresh elections.
But the more important question is: what do the results portend for the future? All are agreed that accession to India was not the issue. The people voted only for better governance. While doing so they made no secret of their alienation from New Delhi either.
A PDP-Congress coalition will exclude Jammu. A BJP-NC regime will marginalise the Valley. The consequences are not difficult to imagine.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2014