Charged With Modi Power Will BJP Achieve 44+?
Who will win and form the next government in Jammu and Kashmir? Would the BJP under Prime Minister Narender Modi’s magic create history achieving its 44 plus target in 87 seats Jammu Kashmir Assembly, changing the electoral dynamics in the state?
What might be the outcome of 2014, branded “watershed” elections but one thing from the first phase of polling clearly reflected that Kashmiris’ have openly defied the boycott chorus of the “separatists”. Long queues of enthusiastic young, old, men, women and especially the first time voters outside the polling stations at 15 constituencies that observed the polls in the first phase firmly stamped that ballot is ruling bullets-be the credit goes to the enigma of Modi or the reoccurrence of belief in Indian democratic process among the otherwise “disillusioned” Kashmiris.
This has been the first election in the past 18 years, which has trademark colours and action of Indian election festivity. From Ganderbal to Bandipore, braving intense cold, people came out in large numbers with 71 per cent voter turnout.
In north Kashmir’s, Bandipore, which once was the core of the Kashmiri separatist movement and a favourable infiltration route during 1990s has willingly draped the colours of all political parties–red, green, saffron and blue. Almost each part of this town is sheltered with the buntings and banners of all the contestants in fray. For 18 year old Imtiaz, who was born during militancy amidst anti-India and pro-separatist movements proudly displayed his inked finger along with his grandfather and father has clear vision in his mind about what it means to exercise vote. “We need corruption free government, which works for people like us and not use public money to acquire big houses, cars and personal bank balance.” Though his elders have traditional political lineage, Imtiaz coyly admits that he is impressed with Modi’s way of functioning.
“I am witnessing this kind of poll activity here after more than 25 years,” said an elderly who identified himself as Muhammad Maqbool. “Yes, large number of people are attending political rallies,” he said. The fate of 12 sitting legislators, including seven ministers among 123 candidates have been sealed in 15 constituencies- Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban and Banihal (in Jammu division); Gurez, Bandipora, Sonawari, Kangan and Ganderbal (in Kashmir), Nobra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar (in Ladakh) in the first phase, that went peacefully.
If we try understand the political and demographic equilibrium of Jammu and Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir is the fifth largest State in India by area and 19th largest by population. The State has three important divisions—Kashmir (97 per cent Muslim), Jammu (65 per cent Hindu) and Ladakh (equal population of Muslims and Buddhists 45—47 per cent each). The State has a population of 125 million—Kashmir (6.9 million), Jammu (5.3 million) and Laddakh (300,000). National Conference has been the major political force here because of the historical connection of the Abdullahs. They have been the main torchbearers of the Muslim vote-bank in the State. In the last decade, Mufti Mohammed Saeed’s People Democratic Party has also made a mark for itself, especially due to the disenchantment of the population with the NC. Congress also has had a sizeable presence due to its national status. In the last two elections of 2002 and 2008, two main regional parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC) have ruled, of course with assistance of Congress. The BJP was always absent from the Muslim dominated Kashmir region though it has its presence in Hindu dominated Jammu region and clinched 11 seats in 2008 elections. The BJP could not and also never seriously attempted to make its mark in Muslim dominated regions of the state but this time, the party leadership of course in the awe of Modi is expected to open its account.
The party is in touch with smaller political groups that have surprisingly mushroomed in large numbers in Kashmir over the past few months. In a run up to hooking to smaller parties in Kashmir, BJP has adopted the Socialist Democratic Party and nominated its erstwhile president Darakhshan Andrabi, to contest against Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who has picked Sonwar (his father, Farooq Abdullah was an MLA from here in 2008) along with Beerwah after abandoning the family bastion of Ganderbal. Though this is her first election, Andrabi, 38, is a seasoned “peace activist”, and a writer and poet. A similar campaign is being witnessed in Amira Kadal where BJP candidate Dr Hina Bhat, a dental surgeon whose father Mohammad Shafi Bhat has been an MP from the NC is likely to give a tough contest with sitting NC MLA Nassir Aslam Wani. The two women faces of BJP have already accorded serious political dimensions in Kashmir.
The most high profile case of BJP reaching out to smaller groups in citing is of former separatist leader, People’s Conference chairman Sajjad Lone statement that he did not deny post-poll alliance with the BJP. Lone met Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggering the speculations that his party would join hands with the BJP after elections. Going all gaga about Modi, Lone has publicly stated that Modi can change the fortune of Jammu and Kashmir. His move seems to come as a big boost for the BJP ahead of the polls in the state. Lone has also met Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary and party’s state in-charge, who did not rule out a post-election alliance with Lone’s People’s Conference in poll-bound Jammu and Kashmir.
Madhav has stated BJP aspires to provide ‘good governance’ by ending poverty and backwardness in Jammu and Kashmir. “The BJP will support any democratic party that joins forces to defeat the state’s family-run parties. There can be no objection to meeting those who join the electoral process.”
“With this objective,” he continues, “BJP is meeting and trying to bring to the forefront people who would also be opposed to the NC and PDP.”
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit the poll campaign in state, addressing a rally in Kishtwar constituency where more than 30,000 people turned out to hear him. Modi appealed people to end the over-50 years long dynastic rule in the state without directly naming the Congress and the NC that have been in power alternately or in alliance during the last half century.
Why is the BJP aspiring to form government in the state, which has always been ruled by political leaders from Kashmir-BJP won both Parliament seats in Jammu region as well as Ladakh, leading in 27 of 41 assembly segments. This as per the observers gave a “ray of hope” and BJP is now making all-out effort to realise “Mission 44+”, a feat that will enable it to form a government or bring it in role of kingmaker in India’s only Muslim-majority state for the first time in history. In addition, the ruling NC headed by the third generation of Abdullah clan, which more or less won elections by thriving on the emotive issues like autonomy or retaining Article 370 of the Constitution accusing New Delhi for all the woes of the state, however failed to deliver. Though the PDP is likely to gain on incumbency factor of NC, it too has not done much during its chance of ruling the state and thus many voters in state are likely to board on the pro-development agenda of Modi’s BJP.
Though the BJP is in clear win win situation in Hindu belt of Jammu region under Modi wave, it is widely believed that its prospects appear to be in the 20-25 seat range. The BJP has also fielded four Muslim candidates in Muslim dominated Jammu region. BJP is playing tribal card in these Muslims belts: the party is wooing voters by vowing separate reservations for Gujjars. (Gujjars have been seeking the separate reservations from past four decades now. And by promising the same, BJP seemingly played a masterstroke.)
While, the ‘secular’ trio—NC, PDP and Congress are busy selling old wine in new bottles;, BJP is selling ideas. The 2014 assembly polls, observers feel, is different. The boycott call isn’t as strong as it was in the past. Then there is no militant threat and above all there is much more public and political participation.
Media reports have mentioned that there is so much of BJP threat in Kashmir that NC legislator from Sopore made fervent appeal to Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Geelani to “consider boycott call”. Sopore is bastion of Geelani.
It was felt that the boycott will facilitate the entry of BJP in Sopore.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu