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GOWHAR GEELANI | 25 DECEMBER, 2014

The Message in J&K's Fractured Verdict

The voters in J&K didn't give a clear majority to any single party


SRINAGAR: The fractured verdict in the just-concluded assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir has depicted and highlighted the deep regional as well as religious split between Jammu region and the Kashmir Valley as never before.

In this obvious divide, from the Indian perspective, there lies the ‘opportunity’ for the political parties to explore possibility of reconciliation and building bridges between the two distinct regions, however, this outlook oversimplifies the political equation with an apparent aim to lend credence to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s Saffron Mission and pan-India party image.

The idea is to form a government in which the BJP could partner the regional force, essentially the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The argument put forth is that the Kashmir Valley has voted against mis-governance and mal-administration of the Omar Abdullah led coalition government from 2009 to 2014.

A possible PDP-BJP partnership may seem as a short-term and politically pragmatic solution for the PDP to gain power for the next six years, but this unholy alliance could also mean ‘political suicide’ for the Mufti Muhammad Saeed led party that was formed in the late 1990s.

Can the PDP afford such a huge risk?

The year 2014 may have changed India for ever. Narendra Modi’s meteoric rise in the 2014 Indian General Elections and decimation of India’s oldest and historic political force, the Congress party, became the top headlines in India and also in many parts across the globe.

The so-called Modi wave was the talk of the town.

In contrast to what happened in mainland India in May this year, the voters in Jammu & Kashmir, in the recently concluded Legislative Assembly Elections, have given a fractured verdict which could potentially also change Kashmir for ever.

With Omar Abdullah’s resignation as chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir to Governor NN Vohra on Wednesday, the Kashmir polity stands at the crossroads. Omar made clear that “the onus of the government formation lies primarily on the PDP and BJP.” He is obviously happy to adopt the wait and watch policy for now.

Undoubtedly, the voters in Jammu opted for the BJP while the votes in Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley primarily got divided between two main regional forces—the NC and PDP.

The political future of Kashmir seems to be on the razor’s edge with uncertainty looming large as to which combination could provide the stable government to the strife-ridden state in both theory and practice. And which alliance faces minor ideological clashes and needs slighter adjustments?

In all fairness, the BJP did put up a decent show in the Jammu region by winning 25 assembly segments out of 37, which is an overall increase of 14 seats in its previous tally of 11 during the 2008 assembly polls. It is certainly the time for the BJP to celebrate the moment.

That said, the other side of the coin highlights how the BJP’s exaggerated Mission 44+ and its high-profile election campaign turned out to be a massive flop show in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley, where the saffron party failed to open its account despite the fact that Narendra Modi visited the strife-torn region at least five times after becoming India’s Prime Minister.

The BJP’s Lotus did not bloom in Kashmir. Its saffron mission was unwelcomed. Its development mantra too did not work because the BJP leaders spoke different languages in different regions about the abrogation of contentious Article 370, uniform civil code, conversions and remained silent on the possible political resolution of the disputed region.

There is also this unnecessary hype and over-ambitious attempt to present Narendra Modi at par with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The latter came to Kashmir with no baggage and not only extended the hand of friendship to Pakistan but also offered dialogue to the Hurriyat Conference under the ambit of humanism (Insaaniyat Ke Daire Mein Baat Hogi).

On the other hand, Narendra Modi entered the valley with Gujarat baggage and complete silence on the real problem and larger political aspirations of the people of Kashmir.

What does this mean for Kashmir? And what does it mean for India?

The PDP may have appeared as the single largest party garnering 28 seats in the 87-member strong J&K Assembly, an increase of seven seats from the last elections, but this regional force perhaps overestimated its strength in the Valley and thought that the Omar-led weakened NC would be completely wiped off from the scene.

That, however, did not happen.

The NC did put up its worst possible show winning only 15 assembly constituencies but it could not be totally written off. In the previous elections the party had won 28 seats which clearly is a loss of 13 assembly constituencies.

Surprisingly, the Congress has emerged as the only party to have shown presence in all three regions of the troubled Jammu & Kashmir. Another matter that it also suffered hugely as far as the number of seats is concerned, winning only 12 seats in comparison to 17 in the last elections.

Overall picture appears grim. The Muslim vote in the Kashmir Valley has clearly been divided between the two main regional forces. Some votes have been taken by the Indian national party, Congress. On the contrary, the Hindu vote in Jammu appears to have been consolidated over a period of time with most seats falling into the BJP’s kitty.

The PDP has fought this election while criticizing Omar Abdullah led coalition government’s failure in last six years, killing of 113 youths in 2010, hanging of Afzal Guru, repealing of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, self-rule, economic self-reliance of J&K, development, better healthcare, quality education and jobs, etc.

During its campaign the PDP also kept spewing fire against the BJP and tried its best to caution people of Kashmir to stop “communal” forces invading Kashmir. On its part, the BJP accused the PDP of being ‘sympathetic’ toward separatists and ‘soft’ against militancy.

In this sticky backdrop how easy would be the PDP-BJP reconciliation and political marriage?

True, the only pragmatic political possibility at this juncture is a PDP-BJP coalition tie-up which would not require support from any other party to form a government.

But what will this mean for the PDP at the domestic turf? It could potentially turn out to be a political disaster for the PDP. Well, the PDP may be tempted to consider short term goal of forming a government, in lust for gaining power for next six years, but in the next elections scheduled for 2020 the party may risk the possibility of losing its support base in the Kashmir valley, because the Kashmiri electorate has categorically rejected the BJP’s entry in their alcove.

By any stretch of imagination the people’s verdict appears dangerous for Kashmir’s political future. Any opportunistic and simplistic solution could throw Kashmir back into political wilderness and uncertainty in the near future.

The PDP has some time to do serious thinking before joining hands with the ‘communal’ force?

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