BJP’s New Tensions

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Though the elections for the local bodies and Panchayats were considered a hugely partial exercise, at least in Kashmir, the outcome of the just concluded BDC polls indicated the BJP’s slide in Jammu and Kashmir politics, reported Muhammad Younis

BDC-ELECTION-(3)

There are two striking facets to the elections of the Block Development Councils (BDC) that took place in absence of the major stakeholders of the Jammu and Kashmir’s politics. These councils are the mandatory second- tier to the Panchayati Raj System of which the Panchayat is the basic unit. It still would require the constitution of District Development Councils as the final-tier of the system.

First, the governor’s administration failed to ensure the participation of all the voters (Panchs and Sarpanchs) despite the fact that they have been living in protection of the police ever since a sham exercise elected them to their position in 2018 fall. Second, the BJP that had literally a clean chessboard – the only opposition being the Udhampur based National Panthers’ Party (NPP), could not had a clean sweep even in Jammu.

Jammu and Kashmir has 316 BDCs.  In six, elections were not held, and at three BDCs, the nominations were found invalid. Besides, at 27 BDCs, the chairmen were elected unopposed. This left 280 to go to polls on October 24, the results of which were declared the same evening. Election was held for 148 Councils in Jammu, 128 in Kashmir and 31 in Ladakh. A total of 26629 Sarpanchs and Panchs – 8313 of them women – comprised the election’s electoral college and 1065 candidates were in the fray. The voters, in Kashmir, were driven from their highly secured hotels in buses by the government to their respective polling stations for voting.

Shailendra Kumar, Jammu and Kashmir’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) said of these 307 BDCs, BJP captured 81, Congress one, NPP eight (all in Udhampur) as independents have 217. Kumar said BJP won 52 Councils in Jammu, 18 in Kashmir and 11 in Ladakh. Congress bagged lone Council in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. As many as 109 independents won in Kashmir followed by 88 in Jammu and 20 in Ladakh.

Nobody knows who the independents are. But a general perception is that they belong to NC, PDP and Congress. In a way, this is embarrassing as the governor’s administration has kept NC and PDP leadership under lock and key since August 5, and the two main parties have stayed away from the entire Panchayat exercise since 2018.

However, a cursory look at the BDC results indicates the BJP performance shows the same trend in an indirect poll in Jammu and Kashmir as the direct elections in assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra exhibited – a gradual decline.

BJP had fielded 135 candidates in Jammu region but only 52 candidates won. In the 2014 Assembly elections, BJP had emerged as the single largest party from the state’s Jammu region with 25 seats. The party had also swept the 2014 Lok Sabha polls which marked the ascension of Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party had repeated its winning streak by winning all the three parliamentary constituencies of Jammu division.

In state’s main Hindu belt – Jammu, Kathua, Samba, and Udhampur, the saffron party’s performance is unimpressive. From the state’s Hindu dominated region, the mainstay of BJP politics, the party could secure only 53 berths out of the total 148 seats. Of the 20 BDCs in Jammu district, it got only nine. In Samba, it got four out of nine; nine out of 19 in Kathua; and only 4 out of 17 in Udhampur.

In contrast, it was slightly better in districts with mixed populations in Jammu region: BJP got 7 out of 13 in Kishtwar, 5 out of 17 in Doda, 2 out of 11 in Ramban, 4 out of 12 in Reasi, and 8 out of 19 in Rajouri. Poonch is the only district where it could not cut ice in any of the 11 BDCs.

“The party candidates even lost in the home blocks of all senior leaders, allegedly due to infighting, including that of state president Ravinder Raina where the opposition “supported” independents emerged victorious,” The Tribune reported. “The BJP even failed to win any seat from the Nagrota Assembly segment which is the home constituency of the sitting LokSabha member Jugal Kishore Sharma.”

The newspaper reported that the BJP’s worst came from the home district of its vocal state president Ravinder Raina who even lost his home block of Lambari.

The situation for the party is quite grim in Ladakh, the arid region that got Union Territory because of BJP. In Leh, BJP got 7 out of 16, and in the neighbouring Kargil, it won only 4 out of 15.

Ladakh and Jammu are the two region that hugely participated in the Panchayat polls unlike Kashmir where parties as well as people boycotted the exercise.

In Kashmir, BJP had fielded 60 candidates and 18 of them won. But 12 of them were from Pulwama and Shopian districts where most of the candidates in the fray were Kashmiri Pandits living as migrants in Jammu.

In Kashmir, most of south Kashmir stayed away to the extent that elections actually did not take place. Still, BJP could not do wonders. It was declared winner in 18 out of 128 BDCs in Kashmir. In Shopian’s nine BDCs, it could win eight because it failed to file any nomination in ninth council! In Kulgam, Kupwara, Bandipora, Ganderbal, and Srinagar, the party could not open an account, apparently for the same reasons. It, however, managed one of 26 in Baramulla, 2 of 17 in Budgam, 4 of 11 in Pulwama, and 3 of 16 in Anantnag.

This obviously indicated the party may talk about “changing the politics” of Kashmir but might be unable to hold any sway. It could not win a better share in an exercise that was visibly sham and without a competition. However, there is no information, if the party might be having like-minded in the independents’ flock.

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