After 1987, the recent Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections were very crucial for various reasons. Though Kashmir has seen worst of times and elections have been conducted in more sensitive circumstances, what makes this election important is polarisation; the run up to any previous elections in the state has never been more polarised.
The elections after 1996 were all about numbers and the people’s participation; however, the 2014 election have a wider impact with 65% voter turnout, highest since militancy erupted in the state.
Serpentine queues in various areas in Srinagar and North Kashmir, which were traditionally known for boycotting polls, have been seen by many as a revival of poll process and a victory over separatists’. However, a large section of population rejects the huge turnout to as “rejection of separatist sentiment” in the Valley.
While stability and peace in the state are still at the core, the 2014 elections would be more about future of the state and future of the regional parties like National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“This election is not about separatist politics versus pro-India sentiments. It’s about new alignments. The right wing BJP is making inroads into the Muslim dominated state and tried to polarise and fragment vote. How will the state react in times like these needs to be seen,” said Altaf Hussain, former chief of bureau, BBC, in Kashmir.
“A polarised state” said political analyst Amitab Matoo, “would be the very antithesis of the idea of Jammu and Kashmir, which has always celebrated diversity and valued plurality.”
BJP to fair well
The BJP is hopeful of good results in Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist-dominated Ladakh. In the Kashmir Valley, they are betting on Independents, smaller parties and getting migrant Kashmiris vote in huge numbers, besides working on other minority groups among Muslims like Shia and Gujjars.
BJP’s ‘Mission 44+’ also seems to have gotten dividends as the so-called Modi wave would help it secure the second spot and improve its tally from 11 seats in the 2008 assembly elections. Opinion polls give 27-33 to the BJP and a number two slot this, incase the predictions come true, will be the BJP’s highest tally ever in the state.
PDP the largest party
However, the opinion polls predicted the same as forecast made by several analysts at the beginning of the elections — a hung assembly, with the PDP emerging as the largest party.
The C-Voter opinion polls give 32-38 seats to the PDP, which had 21 seats in the last elections.
Drubbing for NC, Cong
The election will also define the future of the National Conference. After 1996, the NC has always emerged a majority party in the state, even in 2002 when the PDP-Congress alliance came to power, the NC, in spite of good numbers, was forced to stay out. The Congress which has been the king maker since 2002, seems to have lost much ground to the BJP in Jammu. The winter capital’s Muslim-dominated areas hold the key to Congress’s future in the Valley.
The poll predictions, however, bear a dismal picture for the party and have given it the third slot with a tally that will barely be a double digit.
As a hung assembly, experts feel, weakens the Valley’s voice and the PDP may have to align with Independents as well as local players. “There is a division of opinion within the PDP with some people insisting that Jammu’s voice needs to include into the party,” said a party source.
Everyday issues dominate
Besides politics, it was everyday issues that influenced votes this time. Anti-incumbency, arrests and killings of youth, Afzal Guru’s hanging, cross-border firing, slow relief and rehabilitation measures in the wake of the devastating floods, everything would have a bearing on the poll result.
A militancy-torn Kashmir had barely managed to recover when a devastating flood hit the state September. The herculean task of rebuilding was a major issue in people’s mind when they came out to vote.
While some people insist that the people, this time around, have “voted for a change”, others feel it was for better jobs, good roads, education and healthcare facilities.
The BJP, which won the general elections on the development plank, tried to exhorts the youth in the state to “vote and be a party to ensured development”.
BJP’s cynosure Narendra Modi too faces the biggest test in the state: whether the party would be able to repeat its Lok Sabha polls magic in Jammu elections too, and whether the Congress is washed out of the Jammu region or wins seats in Muslim majority areas, are yet to be seen.
Though voters in Jammu seem to be tilted towards the BJP, Muslim majority Kashmir with 47 seats still holds the key.?