With BJP elevated to King Maker’s status in Jammu and Kashmir post elections, it failed to make inroads in Kashmir valley. But with 23 per cent vote share BJP’s march past Pir Panjal cannot be ignored for long. Safwat Zargar reports the party’s performance in recently held state assembly elections
Little impact of BJP was expected in the restive state of Jammu and Kashmir when Narendra Modi was sworn-in as 15th Prime Minister of India after winning a full majority in May 2014. The “Modi-wave” that had swept electorate throughout India even reached J&K but didn’t cross Pir Panchal. Months later in office, the notion that Modi and his party are “no-worrying factor” in J&K’s state politics was a miscalculation almost every regional party in J&K made.
Every regional party, be it – NC or PDP and even lately Congress – propped up BJP’s “communal image” during campaigning to create a “negative” image of BJP in the minds of electorate. But at the end of 2014, same parties are weighing pros and cons of seeking BJP’s support in forming the next term of six-year government in the state.
Speculations had long before suggested BJP’s “Mission 44+” a dream near to impossible but not many had expected the regional mandate after Hindu vote consolidation would yield BJP 25 seats, and that too, from only one region of the state – Jammu. On December 23, when the results were out, the trends showed BJP leading in as many as 28 seats but by late evening, the number slightly fell and stayed at 25. While the party performed disastrously in Kashmir valley except in Habba Kadal where its candidate Moti Kaul was first runner-up with a gap of 2359 votes against NC’s Shameema Firdous, only Lal was among the 34 candidates pitched by the party in Kashmir, who managed to save his deposits.
Despite failure in Kashmir, Hindu rightwing BJP had a number of reasons to celebrate after the results. The party has been able to make inroads in Muslim dominated belt of Chenab valley where it won four seats out of six. The belt considered to be the home ground for senior Congress leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had voted overwhelmingly in favour of Congress in 2008 polls, sending its five MLAs to the assembly. In Muslim majority Pir Panchal’s strip of seven seats – Surankote, Mendhar, Poonch-Haveli, Nowshera, Darhal, Kalakote and Rajouri – BJP wrestled two seats, Kalakote and Nowshera.
With BJP clinching 25 out of 37 seats in Jammu, the results have thrown many challenges not only for the highest seat-getter PDP with 28 seats, but also for the less scoring parties like National Conference and erstwhile Jammu-dominating Congress. As the apprehensions of anti-incumbency wave storming NC and Congress was guessed much earlier, “change” proscribing PDP also failed to impress the Jammu voter. With BJP’s win, Congress is the most severely hit party, followed by NC.
Notwithstanding the demands of J&K’s division into two separate states by some Hindu-rightwing groups, the fractured mandate of 2014 has in fact provided a representational ground for these groups to make their demand more vocal. An incisive reading of the electoral results by regional parties points out towards the dilemma of not only forming the government, but also at the regional balance, precisely, a reason for present political gridlock in the state. Another facet of BJP’s victory is the visibility of the soft-spoken regional and identity divide between Jammu and Kashmir.
A day after the results, rumours of different alliances started to run among the party corridors in Srinagar and Jammu. Reports of party representatives holding closed-door meetings with BJP top leadership about the government formation in the state sent the political tempers high in the region. On the other hand, BJP leaders and cadre members in Kashmir celebrated the party’s victory by distributing sweets, dancing and burning firecrackers. Not unsurprisingly, the losing candidates of the party were also seen celebrating!
Though the party only got 25 seats, it got the highest number of vote share 23 per cent in 2014 assembly polls. But, the vote share is less as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls where it had got 32 per cent of the vote share. From valley, the party could only get 3.12 per cent of the vote share.
Dr Hina Bhat, BJP’s female face in Kashmir and candidate for Amira Kadal seat, ranked third in the contest primarily between NC and PDP. Dentist Hina, who had slapped a presiding officer during Srinagar polls on December 14 for allegedly helping the PDP candidate by casting “bogus” votes, broke down in front of reporters after the final results were declared. According to ECI results, she was 10367 votes far from victory in a contest in which 21488 votes were polled in total. After the defeat, Hina, who got much-hyped media coverage pre-polls, said she lost because “the state and police machinery worked against the interests of the BJP in the state.”
Remaining at fifth position, BJP’s another female candidate Darkhshan Andrabi from Sonawar didn’t cross 1100 vote mark. Female contestant for Zadibal in Srinagar, Neelam Bashir Gaash could only poll 360 votes in her favour out of total 18404 ballots cast. She ranked eighth among the tally of 13 candidates. The party stood 3rd in Khanyar and Hazratbal constituency. Its Batamaloo candidate, Zubair Nazir Wani, who was shoulder to shoulder with Modi, during later’s first ever rally in Srinagar as Prime Minister of India gathered only 1304 votes.
In pro-freedom bastion Tral, the party banking on migrant votes stood at fourth in the overall tally. While nearly 17 per cent of the Pandit migrant voters cast ballot, the conclusions of BJP’s failure in Kashmir were early drawn. At the same time, if Tral had voted like Lok Sabha polls in 2014 (1.53 per cent), BJP’s Avtar Singh could have easily won the seat. In 2014 assembly polls, Singh secured 2945 votes, while Tral had only polled 1282 votes in total in Lok Sabha polls.
Hoping to vote on similar trends as in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Ladakh also disappointed BJP in assembly polls. While it stood fourth in Kargil and Nubra, the party was first runner up in Leh and second runner-up in Zanskar. Centred on the Muslim-Buddhist divide, BJP had fielded three Buddhists in; Leh, Zanskar and Nubra and one Muslim candidate Abdul Aziz in Shia-Muslim dominated Kargil.
On the other hand, years of religious “polarisation” and subsequent strategic division of Muslim vote in Jammu, has elevated BJP to a major power partner in J&K politics for the first time. In Reasi district’s three seats, BJP won only one. From Udhampur’s three, it got two, but the other one, won by an independent Pawan Kumar Gupta, was a BJP rebel and is said to be close to party again. In Hindu majority Kathua and Samba, it swept all five and two respectively. The major share of its victory came from Jammu district, where it got 9 out of 11 seats. Other two went to NC.
Out of total 37 candidates fielded by BJP in Jammu, only six were Muslims. Among the party’s score of 25 seats, only one Muslim candidate –Abdul Ghani Kohli from Kalakote – could win on BJP’s ticket.