The 2014 Jammu and Kashmir assembly election could be more about the future of regional parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, rather than the state with the BJP pushing to change the political narrative in Srinagar.
Recent statistics favour the BJP’s campaign — 11 seats, the party’s highest-ever tally, in the 2008 elections on the back of the Amarnath land row that divided the state on religious and regional lines. It polled 5 lakh votes, which is 12.5% of the voteshare.
In its traditional stronghold of Jammu, the BJP now hopes to wrest 30 of the 37 assembly segments. It is confident of a sweep in 24 Hindu-dominated seats and banking on polarisation of Muslim votes in the rest. Of the 70 seats it is contesting, the party has fielded 27 Muslim candidates.
BJP’s Narendra Modi factor will face the biggest test in this election after it completely washed out the Congress in Jammu region in the Lok Sabha poll. Jammu might look tilted towards the BJP, but the Muslim-majority Valley with 47 seats holds the key.
To counter the saffron march, PDP candidate Peerzada Mansoor has been telling voters that BJP would “impose a Hindu CM” on the state.
Polarisation of votes, experts said, would go against the ruling NC, the PDP and the Congress.
“The BJP wants to polarise Muslims along Shia-Sunni lines,” alleged Congress state unit president Saifud-din Soz.
The NC, which has always emerged as the majority party since 1996, faces a perceptible groundswell of anti-incumbency against the Omar Abdullah-led government and outrage after the devastating floods in the state.
PDP is riding high on the anti-incumbency factor but, the experts said, poll dynamics would be dictated by a string of local issues such as arrests and killings of youths, the Afzal Guru hanging, cross-border firing and tardy relief and rehabilitation for flood survivors.
“This election is not about separatist politics versus pro-India sentiments. It’s about new alignments. The BJP is making inroads in the Muslim-dominated state and they are trying to polarise and fragment vote,” said Altaf Hussain, former BBC chief of bureau in Kashmir.
A hung assembly is what nobody wants and the PDP and the BJP are therefore pressing for 44-plus seats in the 87-member legislature. “Can this be the real emergence of the PDP in Kashmir or will it concede space to the national parties? The question remains,” Hussain said.