J&K: Fractured mandate, divided people
The three parts of the state have voted in three different ways, making it difficult to form a government that represents all the regions
Haroon Rasheed Srinagar
The fractured mandate of the Jammu and Kashmir elections is a symptom of the deep fissures in cities, towns, villages and even families of this troubled state. Cleaved by religious and regional identities, the three parts of the state — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh—have voted in three different ways. The conflict in the state’s identity, accentuated by the rapid rise of the BJP and the devaluation of traditional parties, has resulted in the little confusion about how to give the state a stable government.
There are many examples of how badly divided families were, about which party they should vote for. At some places a family vote was divided astonishingly between four different candidates. Abdul Rehman Malik, 60, of Wachi is one such example. Malik voted for the ruling National Conference (NC), his elder son opted for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), his wife voted for an independent and his youngest son toyed with a number of lucrative offers from various independent candidates before casting his confused vote to None Of The Above (NOTA).
Barring the elder Malik’s age-old loyalty to the NC, none could give a strong reason for their behaviour. There were vague answers of development, previous work or animosity with
“At the end of the day these politicians are all the same, and that is why we didn’t have any tension at our dinner table despite voting differently,” said Malik, while giving voting a touch of informality.
Professor Gul Muhammad Wani, Director of Institute of Kashmir Studies is thinking of conducting research on the emergence of this peculiar voting pattern where predictions are impossible”..
“Earlier a particular village voted for a particular party or some other habitation was influenced by a sarpanch or a leader of an other party. But now forget the sarpanch or a block leader, not even a family head is able to influence or direct his family to vote for a single entity,” said Wani.
The smaller number of votes with which candidates have won (10 candidates, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, won by margins of less than 1,000 votes), unknown candidates getting a sizeable number of votes and even NOTA getting around 50,000 votes in the state gives credence to the above theory.
This situation has been mainly limited to the Kashmir Valley. The Hindu-majority areas of Jammu region backed the BJP, giving them 25 seats. The PDP, though, emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats in the state. The NC won 15 seats and the Congress 12. Others, including smaller parties and independents, won seven seats. In a certain way, no party was fully decimated.
Sheikh Showkat, a known political commentator of the state, sees the voting pattern through a different lens. “It has been the policy of New Delhi to have such a situation in Kashmir. Their aim is that nobody should get a majority in Kashmir and every government should be dependent on Jammu for a majority,” said Showkat. “It is part of their divide and rule policy. Earlier they used to rig elections, but after the rebellion caused by the 1987 rigging they have resorted to this new type of social engineering — fracture Kashmir and make it dependent on Jammu.”
Incidentally, after the 1996 assembly elections, no party in Kashmir had crossed the 28-seat mark (the needed majority being 44). In 2002 the NC did emerg the biggest party by bagging 28 seats but, as its party president, Abdullah lost the elections, it decided to sit in the opposition. In 2008, the NC again won 28 seats and now in 2014 it is the turn of the PDP to emerge as the largest party, but with only 28 seats.
In Jammu, the BJP has been witnessing a steady rise, thanks to the revival of Hindutva. The party got one seat in the 2002 assembly polls, 11 in 2008 and 25 in 2014. The occurrence of unity in Jammu is directly proportional to increased disunity among Kashmiri Muslims.
Kashmir is often seen as a place where every prediction goes wrong. At a time when experts think that they can rightly guess what will happen next, the ‘Land of Unpredictability’ comes out with a new surprise. They voted in large numbers in the 2008 assembly polls when everybody predicted that boycotts would prevail in the aftermath of the Amarnath land agitation. They largely refrained from the 2014 parliamentary elections when experts predicted heavy turnouts.
The 2014 Parliamentary polls also proved to be a mirage of the forthcoming scenario. The polls were swept by the BJP and PDP, winning three seats each. During these polls, the figures showed that the PDP led in 39 Assembly segments in the Kashmir Valley’s 46 segments and the NC only managed to lead in five seats. The PDP’s overconfidence and the NC’s survival stakes led to a complete change in equation in the assembly polls held seven months after the Parliamentary elections.
“The PDP started to intimidate the bureaucracy, opened doors to highly corrupt people, gave a mandate to candidates irrespective of their past deeds,” said Sheikh Irfan, a retired lecturer from Ganderbal. “In short, overconfidence killed them.”
The NC, on the other hand, put everything into these elections. With some smart decisions, they bounced back. Party president Abdullah’s decision to withdraw from the Ganderbal constituency was panned by everybody. But he was ultimately proved right, leading to the gain of at least two seats. “The PDP repeated their tainted candidate Qazi Afzal from Ganderbal even after Omar replaced himself with a new candidate, Sheikh Jabbar,” said Irfan. “In the end Jabbar defeated Afzal and Omar won in his new seat too.
“Similarly, in the adjoining Kangan seat, the PDP lost to the NC candidate by a wafer-thin margin as it was unable to repeat the performance of the parliamentary elections”.
During the parliamentary elections, the PDP was leading in both Ganderbal and Kangan assembly segments. Between the parliamentary polls and the assembly elections, some decisions of the PDP didn’t go down well with the people and it had to pay dearly.
The BJP’s position remained almost the same during these two polls. The party was leading in 25 assembly segments during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and it secured the same number of seats in the assembly polls, albeit in slightly different locations. The only major change in its position was that it lost its lone seat in Ladakh and all of its 25 seats were contained in Hindu -dominated areas of Jammu.
The election results did prove one thing—the emergence of deep polarisation along religious lines. The BJP’s understanding of Kashmir proved to be a self-defeating stunt. The aggressiveness of ‘Mission 44’ turned into ‘Fear of 44’ for Kashmiris and it drove people in record numbers to vote so that they could stop the unthinkable .
“The BJP became one of the reasons that the voting percentage saw a jump in the state,” said Showkat. “Hindus voted for the party to take over the government and Muslims voted with equal vigour to stop the BJP from coming to power. The majority community here had an upper hand and the BJP lost the security deposit of all its candidates except one in the Kashmir Valley.”
In the Kashmir Valley, the BJP’s campaign was more muscular. It did not plead for votes. The party made it no secret that it would favour an election boycott at a few places in the Kashmir Valley. That would improve its chances of winning. Coupled with voting by Kashmiri Pandits settled outside, it was hopeful of at least seven seats in downtown Srinagar and the separatist hubs of Tral and Sopore.
“During the elections they simply told us that you people sit at your homes and we will get votes from Pandits and Sikhs,” said Abdul Salam, a shopkeeper in Tral. “This created a fear psychosis among people who were forced to come out to vote to keep the BJP out of the Valley.”
In Ladakh, too, the BJP banked on Buddhist and Shia voters, isolating the Sunni Muslims. But the overall ploy failed, as Pandits were too uninterested to vote in large numbers, Buddhists favoured the moderate Congress and the voting pattern of Shias was no different than Sunnis. The BJP’s ever -changing statements on Article 370, conversion issues and their proximity with the RSS and other Right-wing groups all contributed to rejection by the Muslim-majority population. Their star campaigners—–Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah—too lacked credibility and people knew it.
Despite the failure of its strategy in Kashmir, the BJP leadership is still not toning down its campaign. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, after meeting Governor NN Vohra, reasserted: “Without us, no government is possible in the state.” The BJP often forgets that it has just 25 seats of the 87-member House and its vote share of 23 percent is only 0.3 percent higher than that of the PDP.
For the common Kashmiri, the BJP’s statements are no less than blackmail or coercion to force parties into coalition. This has caused serious resentment in the Valley. Both the NC and PDP have been under pressure to refrain from getting cosy with the BJP. A number of MLAs from both parties have both openly and discreetly voiced their opposition to any kind of coalition with the BJP. There was at least one protest in Lal Chowk by civil society against the PDP’s chief ministerial candidate, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed for initiating talks with the BJP over a coalition government. Their banner read ‘Modi ka jo yaar hai, gaddar hai gaddar hai’ (Modi’s friend is a traitor).
“Coalition with BJP is too tricky. Congress had some face of secularism, but here not even a fig leaf is available,” said Showkat.
There is a general perception among the people that the Congress, during its rule in the state, was instrumental in eroding Article 370 in connivance with the NC, and if the BJP comes to power then what is left of autonomy will be lost forever.