Possible Ambitions

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After the landslide victory fetches it a firm control in Delhi, the focus on Jammu and Kashmir may revolve around the BJP’s possibility of emerging the single largest party in the state, if and when assembly elections take place

The last assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir in 2014 was a hung house. Of the 87 berths, PDP had 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, Peoples Conference had two and rest of the five seats were with independents or smaller parties.

After the BJP pulled down the Mehbooba Mufti-led government in 2018 summer, the Election Commission is avoiding holding assembly polls in the state. However, the Lok Sabha polls were held in which NC won three Kashmir seats and the BJP retained the two Jammu seats and also the Ladakh berth.

Had the 2019 Lok Sabha polls been the assembly elections, the seat position in the state assembly would have been like this: NC 30, BJP 29, Congress 17, Engineer Rasheed’s AIP 5, PDP 3, Sajad Lone’s PC two and the Kargil seat to an independent. Again a hung house but the like-minded NC and Congress could jointly constitute the government.

What is interesting is that the boycott helped BJP “win” Tral, the home to Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa, the two top faces of Kashmir’s new age militancy.

Lok Sabha 2019, however, is not going to be even closer to an assembly election because assembly, in comparison, is reflective of mass local involvement and the outcome is going to be far way different from the numbers it has reflected right now. There are chances of some parties improving a lot and a few more losing some weight.

But these numbers are important for BJP that has won a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha and retained the throne in Delhi. Its politics has Kashmir at the core of it. After sharing power in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in history with PDP, the party would like to retain the power in the state and improve its tally. If Lok Sabha polls are an indicator, it has improved a lot – from 25 in 2014 to 29 seats in 2019.

The dissent and the Muslim belts in Jammu did not matter literally. Chenab Valley exhibited an interesting trend: it gave quite a marginal lead to the Congress despite the fact that the party had support from NC, PDP and all other Kashmir based parties. The lead was 300 in Kishtwar, about 2500 in Bhaderwah and around 6300 in Doda.

Even the BJP rebel Lal Singh could do much even after launching Dogra Swabhiman Front, his own party. He had contested from Udhampur and Jammu Lok Sabha seats but forfeited security deposit from both the constituencies. He lost his Basholi seat, which he and his wife have been representing since 1996, by a huge margin. National Panthers Party (NPP) candidates Harshdev Singh and Prof Bhim Singh also met a similar fate. Even Ladakh seat that BJP retained with a better margin this team, was interesting: BJP had led from three of the four assembly seats in the region.

A new cabinet has taken the oath of office. Immediately, nobody knows if, at all, the party will revisit its Kashmir policy. But what is obvious is that the party would like to have its stakes in the state’s power structure.

The BJP has faced a bit of tension in the first round in Kashmir. In its plan of having three voices from Kashmir – one each from north, central and south Kashmir, the result showed NC emerging as the only voice. However, what was more disturbing to BJP was that its choicest political party could not perform better. Peoples’ Conference in north Kashmir exhibited sort of stagnation as it retained the lead in two seats and AIP, its arch-rival, improved from one to five! The change encouraged by BJP did take place but the results were off the script.

With BJP in power and Jammu and Kashmir being ruled remotely, the question being asked on Srinagar streets is: what next?  The high-voltage Kashmiri centric campaigning has led to fears that BJP may actually start implementing its Kashmir agenda: integrating Jammu and Kashmir fully with the union. This would require doing away with the constitutional provisions that given the state a distinct identity in the federation. Part of it is already in the court.

The cabinet is barely a day old and it is too early to anticipate what the BJP would like to do. There has not been any policy statement from any functionary including the new Home Minister Amit Shah. Whether or not the BJP goes to harvest the low hanging fruits like managing Article 35A or keeping it in the courtroom for a future requirement is something that needs a wait. Shah has talked on the two issues almost everywhere during the campaigning. But election campaign and poll manifesto may not necessarily be the guiding bible for the Modi government.

In Shah’s takeover as the Home Minister, what is being seen is that Prime Minister and Home Minister, after a very long time, will be on the same page. They have had a long association in politics since Gujarat days and this will have an impact on the delivery front of the Home Ministry.

However, the key issue in Jammu and Kashmir is if the BJP permits an election to the state assembly. It is almost a year now that the state is without an elected government. The political class that apparently feels disempowered has tried all institutions to seek an early election. The Home Ministry has not granted permission on security grounds.

Now the political grapevine says that the centre will announce an election for the state assembly in November 2019. The announcement will have the flexibility of holding it in early 2020.

More than elections, the BJP is concerned over the outcome of the polls. BJP has managed lead in 29 of the 87 assembly segments in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls. With its ally, it is 31, one berth more than the NC, state’s oldest political party.

The plan is to retain the number in the next assembly election. Political pundits say it is unlikely to go below 28. The party wants to emerge as the single largest party in the state.

To emerge the single largest party, BJP will have to create a situation that the numbers in Kashmir get slightly dispersed more within the diverse stakeholders. So the next assembly election will witness a shift in the numbers that party claimed in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls. Maybe PDP will improve its tally as its main vote bank has not actually polled. Mehbooba’s No 3 status is not reflective of the politics of south Kashmir.

If the BJP retained its status as Jammu and Kashmir’s single largest party in the next assembly election, it will essentially mean a big thing for the rightwing party that has Kashmir part of its politics from the Jan Sangh days. This will give the party a right to lead the politics in the state. This is being seen as important because this will help the BJP to walk its talk on Kashmir. If it emerges the single largest party, it will have the first right to cobble an alliance. This will be a net upgrade to its present status of being the second major party of Jammu and Kashmir.

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