One thing seems certain as the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections conclude: The BJP’s Mission 44+ is not happening. The large voter turnout has muted the BJP’s early bravado, even as sceptics and critics scramble to explain how the world’s largest democracy has elected someone who was a political pariah domestically and internationally as recently as 18 months ago.
The recent article (Bold Modi tackles Muslim Kashmir head on, December 9) by the BBC’s Andrew Whitehead, who is more than cursorily familiar with Kashmir, is an example of this scramble. According to Whitehead, Modi reached out to Kashmiris during the BJP campaign. As evidence of this he cites Modi’s “bold” words and actions during his last campaign stump speech in the Kashmir Valley, his (admittedly) multiple visits to Jammu and Kashmir after his election, his gesture of solidarity in donning a pheran during his speech and the declaration that he “shares in the pain” of the Kashmiri.
Modi’s words and gestures have not cut much ice in the state. Perhaps because the PM’s repeated visits had to do with his party’s electoral ambitions in the state; his pain-sharing rang hollow in the absence of even a mention the iron-rod bludgeoning of Kashmiri students in Haryana just 24 hours before his speech and the donning of a pheran came after Modi was criticised for wearing the head gear and apparel of other ethno-religious groups but not of Kashmiris or Muslims.
So will Jammu and Kashmir rebuff the Modi magic trend? Let me go out on a limb and say “Yes”.
Word on the street is that the BJP will not win any of its four assembly seats in Ladakh. Its tally in Kashmir promises to be no more than two seats, if that. And in Jammu, in-fighting has blunted the BJP ‘tsunami’.
So the new big question is this: Will the BJP be needed to form the next government in the state?
Let me go out on a limb again and say “No”.
What is the message that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will have sent to Delhi under these conditions?
First, it will have repudiated the political agenda of the coalition of right religious nationalists, which advocates the definition of India/Bharat as a homogeneous nation of peoples (or society) and a primordially defined place (or territory). In other words, the people of Jammu and Kashmir will have re-asserted their right to define its sovereignty in relation to India. Second, the people of the state will have rebuffed the trend of concentrating power not just in Delhi (with which it is quite familiar) but also in the person of the head of the government of India, the prime minister.
The medium-term message that the state’s people will have conveyed is that the seeming all-India ‘Modi Magic’ has its limits.
That said, the jury is still out on the PM’s techniques of governance and his primary political agenda. His performance needs to be judged beyond his oratory skills, the historical baggage he brings to the office and the results of assembly elections. But in the interim, let us not grasp at straws to explain Modi’s election just because we are not au fait with the sophistry of his rhetoric and contradictions in his behaviour.
Meanwhile, if counting day on December 23 reveals that the BJP has failed in the state, should we treat the results of the elections as a referendum on the state’s right to define its relationship with New Delhi? Whatever the answer to that question, one thing is clear: The relationship between Srinagar and Delhi will continue to be the litmus test for the Modi-led government’s threshold for tolerance of cultural diversity, societal pluralism and resilient political dissent.
Siddiq Wahid is a historian and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research
The views expressed by the author are personal