Srinagar: The five-phase winter election for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly announced today may turn out like no other.
Its uniqueness can only partially be ascribed to a franchise effort being undertaken in the midst of the calamitous humanitarian setback caused by the September flash flood. The singular aspect of the coming polls will be the BJP’s bid to capture power in India’s only Muslim-majority province.
Many believe the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo’s pitch for 44+ seats in the 87-member state Assembly to be an unrealistic project, because it has no proven presence in the Valley, which accounts for 46 seats.
But even sceptics concede the BJP is set to score a new high. It has never crossed 11, its current strength, in the Jammu and Kashmir House; the odds are that even if it does moderately well, it will more than double its numbers.
A palpably pro-Modi mood in the Jammu region (37 seats) following its Lok Sabha sweep and its first-time grab of Leh (4 seats) gives the BJP reason to believe it can assume “controlling stakes” in the frontier state, which most likely will throw up a fractured verdict.
A four-cornered contest awaits Jammu and Kashmir, the ruling National Conference (NC) of Omar Abdullah on an uphill against Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the Valley, and the Congress struggling to keep its Jammu empire being snatched by an ascendant BJP.
It is unlikely any group will secure ruling numbers on its own, given how fractured the electorate is, especially between the Kashmir and Jammu regions.
And should the BJP capture more than 25 seats, it will play kingmaker, if not king. It’s moot yet if it will make a go for power or play power behind the throne. For public purposes, the party is in aspiration overdrive.
“Let the result come and you will see the BJP emerging on top,” boasted Nirmal Singh, spokesperson for the state BJP. “You have seen the new party leadership create record after election record; J&K will be no exception, the tide is with us.”
Recurrent electoral successes of the Modi-Shah tandem, most recently in Maharashtra and Haryana, have left the Valley-based political groups a little unnerved.
Rattled by the BJP’s “Mission 44+”, they have begun almost to plead to the Prime Minister not to plan the “imposition of a Hindu political order” on “a sensitive Muslim-majority state”.
Naeem Akhtar, spokesperson for the PDP, told The Telegraph upon receiving the first intimations of “Mission 44+” last month: “We are a drop in the ocean of the Indian state, and the only Muslim-majority area. I appeal to the statesmanship of the Prime Minister not to do anything that will upset the unique nature and politics of the state.”
It is unlikely such a plea will be heard; the BJP, for the first time in its electoral annals, is playing hard to expand frontiers in the Valley.
Among the Kashmiri seats it is eyeing are Amirakadal, Habbakadal, Sopore and Tral. Voter turnout in all of these has consistently been low, and the BJP hopes migrant Kashmiri Pandit voters will tilt the balance in its favour.
The PDP, among the first Valley groups to welcome the announcement of the polls, is hoping to cash in on the widespread disaffection with the Omar Abdullah regime, especially with the tardy relief operations that have followed the flood devastation.
The NC, on the other hand, betrays stage fright. The chief minister had sought postponement of the elections arguing they would be an imposition on people struggling to recover from the flood aftermath.
Elections this winter are widely seen as importune in Srinagar, which is struggling to come to terms with the ravages of the most destructive flood in living memory. But the damage and displacement in Srinagar, many believe, will barely be consequential on the outcome.
Srinagar, the devastated centrepiece of the Valley, has never displayed any enthusiasm for elections: average polling figures have struggled to reach double digits. So, whether Srinagar votes or not has probably been inconsequential to Election Commission teams that resolved that conditions were right to go ahead.
Omar wasn’t in the Kashmiri capital to receive the Election Commission’s announcement --- he is in London tending to his ailing father Farooq Abdullah --- but his party grudgingly accepted the fait accompli.
“We wanted the polls postponed in view of the floods, but being votaries of democracy we have decided to accept the dates and participate,” cabinet minister and NC general secretary Ali Mohammed Sagar said.
It is such NC diffidence that boosts the PDP’s hopes of returning to power after a decade’s hiatus. But if they remain jittery about what the future’s to tell, it is because of apprehensions over what an “outsider” party called the BJP could achieve against the run of past Jammu and Kashmir outcomes.
-The Telegraph, India