Kashmir dilemma

Published December 28, 2014
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

THE upshot of the Battle Royal is that no one party can claim to represent Indian Jammu & Kashmir. Results of the recently concluded J&K elections are a case in point. When the numbers finally stacked up, what emerged was a fractured verdict with no party enjoying a clear majority. As various dramatis personae in J&K’s political set-up get busy to cobble together the new government, it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that such efforts won’t be easy.

The reasons are simple: it is a totally divided verdict with no apparent winners. Any party aiming to stake a claim for power in J&K has to enter into an alliance with a political force that could be at loggerheads with it, ideologically or otherwise, which is akin to sleeping with the enemy.

A party needs a minimum of 44 seats in the 87-member J&K assembly to form the government. While the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats in the assembly, what has upset the applecart is the remarkable performance of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.


Politics often makes strange bedfellows.


Flush with its recent victory in India’s parliamentary elections, the BJP has picked up 25 seats, significantly extending gains in the area where it won just 11 seats in the 2008 elections. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited J&K five times since his election, demonstrating his party’s seriousness about Kashmir.

The oldest political party there, the National Conference (NC), which has been ruling Kashmir for the past six years, managed to win in 15 constituencies

only but might hold the key to any future government formation. Already Omar Abdullah, the ex-chief minister of J&K has held parleys with the BJP, leading to speculations that a NC-BJP combine could be on cards.

The proposed alliance may greatly upset the PDP, which was all geared up to form the new government but got halted in its tracks by a resurgent BJP that completely swept the Jammu region, leaving the PDP with no more than three members of the legislative assembly from Jammu. Most of the PDP’s 28 MLAs come from the Kashmir Valley.

Speculation is rife that the PDP, led by Mufti Mohammed Sayed, an ex-Congressman who was India’s home minister from 1989 to 1990, is all too keen to strike a deal with the BJP to form the next government. There might be an ideological clash (with the BJP’s position on contentious issues like the abrogation of Article 370 well known) but politics often makes strange bedfellows.

Meanwhile, the Congress party, which picked up a dozen seats, has expressed its willingness to support the PDP although the legislative sum of such a dispensation doesn’t quite add up. Besides having a wafer-slim majority, a PDP-Congress combination will be vulnerable to exactions from independents, without which it cannot operate.

In another remarkable development, political quarters are abuzz that the PDP might even consider an offer of support by the NC if it gives that in writing. That, analysts say, will be a dramatic situation where the two leading regional parties (that essentially compete for the same political space) come together to keep the BJP at bay.

Be that as it may, the imprint of BJP’s victory in J&K is clear. With its polarising pitch and near complete stranglehold on the predominantly Hindu regions in the area, the party has further created a religious wedge between the two provinces of Jammu and Kashmir. That is the party’s USP. The original idea of BJP’s Mission 44 was to pocket Jammu, which it easily managed.

While the party could not pick up any seats in either Kashmir or Ladakh, where several of its candidates lost their electoral deposits, the BJP’s accomplishment lies in the fact that it gives parties like the NC and PDP a run for their money. Let’s not forget that the party managed to win by significantly big margins in the Jammu belt.

Exposing an interesting facet, these elections also point to the preponderance of India’s national parties like the BJP and Congress in J&K’s political matrix. While the Congress party has an established base in J&K and has been key to several poli-tical formations in the past, the BJP’s entry has made it a four-way encounter now with two of India’s biggest national parties in a comfortable position to play first fiddle in J&K. This was unthinkable a few years ago.

The aspirations and sentiments of the people of J&K notwithstanding, these elections, its politics and now the complex electoral engineering taking place reflects a new epoch in Jammu & Kashmir’s vicissitudinary history. With ideology and exigency jarring, what is happening in Kashmir’s electoral politics appears hollow at many levels but politics, they say, is the art of the possible.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2014

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