In a  Dilemma

   

Kashmir has experienced interestingly different elections, but the change in mainland India’s political landscape has led to an identity assertion which many think could threaten the sub-national identities. A voter caught between boycott and participation in Kashmir’s ideologically-split politics will have to consider five major concerns before going either way in autumn polls, this fall, analyses Tasavur Mushtaq

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At the cross roads. Election 2014 is interesting in many ways. The final take is for the voter. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
At the cross roads. Election 2014 is interesting in many ways. The final take is for the voter.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

With exception of being in vogue for six years, the elections and its results in Jammu and Kashmir have always been a process of interest. With different situations emerging, both pre and post electoral history of state, the observers have always kept their fingers crossed.

This time though the deluge raised question mark on the timing, but eventually the notification came out to conduct elections in a “highly militarized” zone.

Whatever may be the final outcome of the 2014 elections, it will be unique in several ways. Political equations fast changing, it seems alliances may pop up surprisingly and former foes may share the political bed. Perhaps it would be much better to say that the present state of political confusion was never seen before.

Claims, allegations, sharing of seats and who will rule the former princely state, all apparently depend on one character – voter. This time the voter essentially has many things going on in mind. It is not any of the previous elections that this conflict-ridden state has seen. It is multi-faceted competition, with players from outside claiming to be equal shareholders.

Traditionally the voter in Kashmir has always seen the electoral process in two ways; whether to vote or boycott. This essentially was based on the type of ideologies which they opted; unionists or separatists. Though unionist politicians, repeatedly, claim: “Kashmir issue is not linked to elections.” Elections are meant for local administrative issues, but the inked finger for other camp only means “sell-out”.

Interestingly the boycott, many say, in itself is a process to elect. Say for example in 1996, National Conference came with huge majority. Even the dreaded counterinsurgent Kuka Parrey became the lawmaker. The obvious reasons, political commentators say, many who resorted to boycott, in a way give chance to others to win with even very few votes. “See when you would have thought that Ikhwani will enter assembly,” says Qamar Zaman, a political science student, “this happened because the ones who voted were their own people.”

In 2002, with another Kashmir-based regional party Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in fray, the equations changed a bit. Also the congress made its entry and finally became kingmaker. PDP replaced National Conference as regional party. But in 2008, though congress enjoyed its role, PDP was replaced by NC.

In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, there was paradigm shift. For the first time since 1977, following Sheikh Muhamamd Abdullah’s return to power in 1975 under the Indira-Abdullah accord, the NC has to learn to live without any representation in Parliament.

Similarly the 2014 assembly polls, observers feel, is different. People who are privy to developments claim “boycott call isn’t as strong as it was in the past”. Second, the police chief claims “there is no militant threat as such”. Third, with many players in fray, local participation will rise. But this time, the major test is for the voter who has to cast vote with “many things in mind”.

Boycott apart, even taking part in election is asking many questions to voter in valley. As the tables are turning fast, the saffron brigade’s “focused” entry into state politics is not as simple as it appears to a naked eye. It rather is “complete game plan” to alter the discourse and make a “new beginning”.

“BJP is fighting the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir with a special strategy to come to power in the state,” said union minister JP Nadda while addressing an election rally. “BJP is confident of accomplishing its Mission 44+.”

The voter in valley who has to come out on November 25 for the first phase polls and then in other subsequent phases, has to decide not only the government formation, but eventually the “fate of Kashmir”. Because it is for the first time that BJP is so hugely involved in elections and have already a set target of “Mission 44+”.

In Jammu, it is widely believed that 21 assembly segments which have clear Hindu majority would prefer to sail with right wingers, while the 16 Muslim dominated areas, now considered “secular vote” of state have to chose between Congress, NC and PDP.

But the most ambitious part of the plan is how the party wants to tackle Muslim majority Kashmir where there are 46 segments and didn’t win any seat in summer polls; but hopes to gain following the decision of ruling partners Congress and National Conference to contest separately.

Its primary focus in valley is on five seats — Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal in Srinagar, Sopore in Baramulla (a seat that Syed Ali Geelani once represented) and Islamabad and Tral in South Kashmir (where it is banking on Muslim voters going by a boycott called by Hurriyat and migrant Kashmiri Pandits turning out in its support).

Syed Ali Geelani urging people to boycott upcoming assembly polls.
Syed Ali Geelani urging people to boycott upcoming assembly polls.

“KPs are integral to Jammu and Kashmir’s political scenario,” BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli was recently quoted as saying. “And we are trying to ensure their participation and positive electoral role in the coming election.”

Second element of the Kashmir plan is to get local allies. The BJP plans to back some independent candidates who would then support the party in the event of a hung house. Its senior leader is reported to have said, “Kashmir se paanch kanwal dou.”

Feeling the heat of boycott,  NC legislator from “restive” Sopore made fervent appeal to Syed Ali Geelani at least to “consider boycott call” in Sopore – as the sitting MLA believes: the boycott will facilitate the entry of BJP in Sopore (the bastion of Geelani). Part of the BJP strategy is also to win over the non-Kashmiri Muslim vote-bank, especially Gujjars in Jammu and also Shias in Valley.

As far as NC-INC coalition is concerned, if at all it had nursed any hope of recovering some lost ground it was washed out by the recent floods in which the government became the target of public wrath for its abject non-performance. The principal opposition PDP who claims to have its own majority is also under fire for being open to people with “not good track records”. In case of retired SSP Ashiq Bukhari, PDP president even intervened and termed his entry into party as “clerical mistake”.

Whatever the case may be, the voter for the first time has to think about factors which never used to be part of elections in Kashmir. The scene on the ground appears to have changed beyond recognition from what it was in 2008.

So, what are the major apprehensions of Kashmir voter?

1. BJP’s desperation to control Muslim majority J&K

The BJP is wedded to an idea of India which views minorities essentially as outsiders and an implacable ‘other’ and the injection of minorities (especially Muslims) into Indian history as a scar – the blot that broke and sequestered an allegedly golden Hindu past. To get away with this tag, bigwigs in BJP think: “Kashmir is a best place to start with.”

Narendra Modi on his visit to J&K where he revealed BJP’s plan to achieve ‘mission 44+’.
Narendra Modi on his visit to J&K where he revealed BJP’s plan to achieve ‘mission 44+’.

After Narendra Modi led BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls in rest of India, in J&K the BJP won both Lok Sabha 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 in India’s only Muslim-majority state for the first time in history and promote its “nationalist agenda”.

The “historic” majority of BJP made Muslims in India scattered and with insignificant representation in the newly elected government. Accused to be “communal”, BJP “intelligently” drafted a plan to claim territory which never allowed them to peep in. Jammu they feel is their “baby”. They are desperate to make most of the valley. To accomplish their “dream,” they even roped in “free electrons” and did not mind to neglect their past track record. This though invited sharp criticism from BJP’s detractors in Delhi, but they “by hook or crook” want to get it done.

“BJP would have never imagined to see their candidates in valley roaming around and campaigning,” says Abdul Gani, an old city local. “Their morale is very high and they only want to be in power in J&K.” This way, he continues, BJP will claim acceptability among Muslim dominated state.

In an attempt to shrug off the “communal” tag, BJP has fielded nearly 40 per cent Muslim candidates to wrest power in the state. By having significant representation in J&K assembly, the BJP would make a claim of being people’s representative and do what until now is “non-doable” for them.

2. BJP’s Triple Poll Plank

BJP in India have raised three main issue; construction of  Ram Mandir in place of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, implementing Uniform Civil Code and abrogation of Article 370, to woo voters in election season.

60 by 40 sq feet land in Ayodhya is sub-judice matter. BJP can’t do much about it. To implement Uniform Civil Code is not as easy as they have thought it to be. As the term, civil code is used to cover the entire body of laws governing rights relating to property and otherwise in personal matters like marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance.

As things stand, there are different laws governing these aspects for different communities in India. Thus, the laws governing inheritance or divorce among Hindus would be different from those pertaining to Muslims or Christians and so on.

Then comes the third and most important, vis-à-vis J&K—Article 370.

This time BJP is making very cautious and calculated moves. Prior to campaigning, rather than openly raising abrogation of Article 370, it is urging people to discuss its advantages and disadvantages. Of late, the top party brass is of the opinion: “BJP will do what people want in case of article 370.” However, political observers believe, this statement is loaded with a potential “game plan”.

When BJP will have strength in state assembly, the observers say, they will relate peoples’ mandate with “will of people”. In the process, the party will pass resolution and appeal president of India to intervene, the observers continue. There have been two presidential references: one, in 1954; and another in 1960, when NC was on boycott. This upcoming poll game is directly between state assembly and the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Those who in know of things believe the party will continue to harp on abrogating this piece of legislation even though they know it is next to impossible. When Atal Behari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister with an improved mandate last time, highly placed sources said, the party forced him to act on the issue.

On the continuous insistence, the poet prime minister had tasked his national security adviser (NSA) to identify the top legal luminaries of the time and seek their opinion about the possibility of abrogating the Article 370. The issue was finally tackled by the then home secretary who is understood to have written expressly to 17 top constitutional experts of India. “Most of them are alive and you can count them,” one source privy to the development said.

Interestingly, all the 17 opinions were against the idea. The then home secretary is reported to have submitted the file to the prime minister with his note suggesting that abrogating Article 370 would be a “constitutional nightmare”. After the prime minister read the opinions of the experts, he had directed that the file be marked ‘secret’ and handed over to the NSA. Next time, whoever raises this demand, the file be shown to him.

If at all the party while in power may not be able to abrogate Article 370 that has already been eroded; it still can change many things that will reduce the special status of the state. These could be related to land laws, state subject norms and doing away with the barriers preventing laws that state might be resisting.

3.  Identity of Kashmir

Till this point every regional political party terms BJP’s claim as “day dreaming”. But there are apprehensions as well. With already 11 seats in kitty, BJP is all set to improve its tally. Its prospects appear to be in the 20-25 seat range. Though while addressing rallies, Congress leaders claim, there is no “wave,” but its leaders accept that BJP will have impact. NC and PDP didn’t even negate the notion. Recently whatever was the underlying reason, senior NC man Dr Mehboob Beg quit party saying “Modi wave has to be stopped”.

BJP’s “intelligent” plan is simple. It wants to create a scare in Kashmir—so that people come out, and vote to ensure the BJP doesn’t embarrass them by taking away a few seats. If they don’t come out, Kashmir will get a new identity, at least for the sake of records and history. It obviously will help BJP take credit for doing unthinkable in Kashmir.

In case, the plan wasn’t off the script; and BJP hitting its target, ruling J&K even as an ally will make a big difference. Congress has ruled the state using the “backdoor and fraud”. BJP will rule the state using democracy intelligently. It will help BJP-RSS to address Jammu better. Surviving on the allegations that the power and authority has been taken away by Kashmir throughout and it is better for Jammu to separate and become a new state; this situation can help BJP reassure Jammu (that while being a minority in the state), it can still have adequate stake-holding in power and governance.

Quite recently BJP leaders asked for settling 10 lakh ex-servicemen in the valley, who would create the circumstance conducive to the return of the KPs. Subramanyam Swamy made this point and argued: it could be the answer to ending the strife in the valley. “They [Ex-servicemen] should be given the money and arms, and tasked with retrieving the property of the Pandits,” Swamy recently said in a book launch event.

While presiding over the event, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar revealed the village defence committees (VDCs) constituted to tackle militancy in Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley was an idea conceived by the RSS and implemented by the Vajpayee government. “We took active part in selecting and arming the VDCs,” he was quoted as saying.

4. Kashmir needs to be rebuilt

BJP’s national president and think tank for J&K assembly elections Amit Shah.
BJP’s national president and think tank for J&K assembly elections Amit Shah.

As floods ravaged state, the worst hit was summer capital. But to appease people in Jammu, out of Rs 700 crore, which were released for flood victims, Jammu took 50 per cent. As per preliminary estimates, valley suffered Rs 100000 crore loss. And experts say that the cascading effect of loss is actually 2.5 per cent, that means the apparent loss is around Rs 250000 crore. This was no criteria for the government to decide when they distributed the interim relief.

Accused to take lion’s share, Kashmir actually has over the years been at backseat when it comes to terms of development and other related issues. Even it is reported that when funds in Kashmir are about to lapse, they are being transferred to Jammu.

With Jammu being their stronghold to appease the voter base and make them feel “Kashmir is being made to suffer,” BJP, analysts believe, will have a firm hold in the winter capital.

It is no surprise, says a senior scribe, when chief minister’s friend and his party provincial president Devendra Singh Rana informally says, “Dogra Raj wapas aagaya.” But in actual terms, it is Rana’s brother and MoS in Modi’s office Dr Jitendra Singh who actually will make it happen.

Pertinently Dogras in Jammu, whose progeny are Rana brothers have always stood in opposition to a separate flag, a separate constitution, and a separate president. Their slogan: “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do nishan, do pradhan; nahin challengay.”

5. More Jammu seats now

For a party whose best performance in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir assembly has been 11 seats in 2008 has no seat in Kashmir or Ladakh. It has marked the first time: it sees itself in a position to chase that majority target—Jammu. In 87-member of J&K assembly; valley has 46, Jammu 37, and Ladakh 4 seats.

In the outgoing assembly, the ruling National Conference is the single largest party with 28 seats. Its erstwhile ally Congress has 17 seats while principal opposition PDP has 21. The BJP is a distant fourth with 11 seats while others account for 10 seats including three seats of Jammu & Kashmir National Panthers Party.

After playing the Amarnath land row to its advantage and leveraging the situation by enforcing economic blockade on the rest of the state that paved the way for securing 11 seats for the first time in history, it had only one seat in 1996 and two in 2002.

With “Mission 44+,” the BJP, if comes to power will try to balance the number of seats which according to experts will have long lasting impact.  “BJP will have increased number of seats in Jammu which eventually be in their own hands, thereby pushing valley to backseat,” believes a Kashmir student studying in New Delhi’s Jamia Milia.

As per political experts, the valley is kingmaker—because it chooses more candidates than Jammu, obviously as per the population and area. But there is long grudge in Jammu and its politicians that the Jammu should have equal share as that of valley. This is not limited to the number only. It essentially means that in coming times, with Kashmir votes fragmented and also the Jammu’s Muslims divided, the BJP will have easy walk to the chair as it will “develop committed vote-bank in Hindu dominated areas”. This, in a way, takes Kashmir’s chance forever to be in centre-stage in deciding the political fortunes.

“With all this in place, the voter has to make a choice not for six years, but forever,” says a Srinagar-based teacher.

With apprehensions and “wave”, the elections in Kashmir this fall seems to be a double-edged sword. Caught between devil and deep sea, voter while pushing the button has to decide which way he want to take valley or whether December 23 will come up with “changed script of Indianising the Kashmir”. Matter of a month…

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