Poll-ready Kashmir Valley on democracy steroid
Heavy polling—over 71 per cent—in the first phase of polling in Jammu and Kashmir is certain to continue in the remaining four phases. It means, people are fed up with terrorism and days of militancy in the strife-torn state are numbered. It is also a strong rebuff to separatists who had called for boycott of the poll. People of Kashmir and residents of Jammu, as if, mocked militants as they lined up in thousands outside polling booths, declaring support to democracy. Militants too, on their part, have realized the futility of their struggle and began bidding ‘farewell to arms’. This was evident from so many former militants jumping in the electoral fray; many of whom may get elected. Strong resentment against abrogation of Article 370, which confers special status on J&K, was evident in first round, particularly in the Valley. On its part, the BJP has tried to be soft on Article 370 and fielded over 40 per cent Muslim candidates.
Militants may be down but they are not out. They may make a bid to come back as witnessed on Thursday (November 27) on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu region. Ten persons, including four civilians, three army jawans and three militants, were killed after a group of them attacked a village along the International border. History of militancy world-wide has shown that it goes to peak and then declines. Punjab is an example where militancy has seen its worst period and then declined and now the state is as peaceful as others. In Kashmir, aided and abetted by Pakistan, the militancy has prolonged for an unusually long period but now it is on decline.
One reason for rise of militancy in J&K is said to be the way elections after elections were rigged. It was a common practice since Sheikh Abdullah’s time. Young men when unfairly defeated in elections, became rebels. This correspondent, having covered many elections in Kashmir, has seen the phenomenon of large scale rigging.
A blatant example is that of Sayeed Salahuddeen, who contested from Srinagar’s Amirakadal constituency on a ticket of the Muslim United Front(MUF), a coalition of political parties. From all accounts, he polled quite a large number of votes and his victory appeared certain but when the results were declared, he was defeated and the National Conference candidate was declared elected. It was a clear case of rigging. When he agitated against rigging, he was arrested and put in jail with the help of the Central Government. The result was that Salahuddin became a rebel, crossed over to Pakistan and became a dreaded terrorist. In this way, many Salahuddins emerged in the valley.
Thanks to the Election Commission, at least, last two or three elections had been conducted fairly and results are for all of us to see. People of Kashmir have as much faith in democracy as electorate of any other state. The high turnout—over 71 per cent-- in the first phase of ongoing elections confirms this.
Coming to politics, having been inconsequential in the valley’s fractious politics all these years, the BJP made an impression of being a serious player for the first time probably buoyed by the historic mandate it secured in May’s Lok Sabha elections. But it will be difficult for the BJP to form the government in state. The post-poll scenario appears to be extremely complex. The party may do exceedingly well in Jammu region but in the valley, having larger number of seats, there is no possibility of its making any headway. Neither the PDP nor the Congress can support a BJP dispensation; nor they can take support of the BJP.
Already hit by strong anti-incumbency, Omar Abullah’s is expected to fare poorly in the elections. The NC can never think of taking support of the BJP or supporting a BJP-led government; in the event of Omar doing so, his party will lose whatever support is left in the valley. NC—PDP coalition is an impossible proposition. The only possibility is that the Congress may support Mahbooba Mufti-led government or join it. An indication to this effect came when Rahul Gandhi attacked Omar for inaction. One has, however, to wait and watch the post-election situation.
With the systematic campaign, the BJP has added a new dimension to Jammu and Kashmir politics, which has revolved around the National Conference and the PDP so far. The party, which edged out the Congress in Jammu region in general elections in May, has turned around the discourse with audacious “Mission 44” plan, aimed at capturing power in the state. Though the party’s highest tally in the state assembly has been 11 seats—out of a total OF 87—and its influence IS limited to Jammu, the BJP has succeeded in resetting the poll agenda around its campaign across the state, including the valley.
The BJP has targeted the NC, the PDP and the Congress, calling them dynasty-centric parties that have failed to address the aspirations of the people, and has sought to reach out to sections of electorate and smaller parties that have been left OUT of the power milieu. In a bid to expand its influence beyond Jammu, the party has tamed its views on divisive issues and has chosen development and peace as two deliverables if elected. The loser in this game is likely to be the Congress, which has been the king-maker in the state since 2002 assembly elections.