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Poll results today: Can BJP make its mark in J-K?

After 1987, the recently concluded assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are probably the most crucial. Although elections have been conducted in situations far more sensitive, the polarised run-up to the polls this year makes the all difference.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2014 03:51 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Electronic-Voting-Machines-EVM-are-being-used-in-Indian-General-and-State-Elections-to-implement-electronic-voting-in-part-from-1999-elections-HT-photo--
Electronic-Voting-Machines-EVM-are-being-used-in-Indian-General-and-State-Elections-to-implement-electronic-voting-in-part-from-1999-elections-HT-photo--

After 1987, the recently concluded assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are probably the most crucial. Although the state has seen worse times and elections have been conducted in situations far more sensitive, the polarised run-up to the polls this year makes the all difference.

While elections in the past were all about numbers and people's participation, the 2014 elections will have a wider impact.

The voter turnout in the entire state, where polling was held for 87 seats, was the highest at 65% since militancy erupted in the state. Serpentine queues in areas like Srinagar and north Kashmir, which were traditionally known as boycott areas for many years, saw revival of democracy in the state but not many wanted the numbers to be projected as rejection of "separatist sentiment in India".

Although stability and peace are still at the core, the 2014 elections would be more about future of the state and future of regional parties like ruling National Conference, main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP).

The militancy-hit state saw a quadrangular contest among NC, PDP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, which parted ways with NC ahead of the polls.

"This election is not about separatist politics versus pro-India sentiments. It's about new alignments. The right wing BJP is making inroads in the Muslim dominated state and they 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 for the BBC in Kashmir.

The opinion polls have predicted what analysts have been saying since the beginning of these elections. But there are speculations that various political parties are trying to work out an alliance, depending on the numbers that will emerge on Tuesday.

The predictions have shown a hung assembly in the state with the PDP emerging as the single-largest party, riding on the anti-incumbency and anger among the flood victims.. The C-Voter opinion poll gives the PDP between 32-38 seats. It had won 21 seats in the last elections.

The party leadership is silent about any post-poll alliance so far.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hopeful of support in Hindu-dominated Jammu as well as in Buddhist Ladakh. In Kashmir valley, they are betting on the independent candidates, smaller parties and migrant Kashmiris, besides working on other minority groups among Muslims like Shia and Gujjars.

These elections are going to be a litmus test as much for the BJP, which is making its first serious foray in Jammu and Kashmir to form a government, as for Congress, which will be hoping to stay relevant in the state politics following the massive rout in Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.

The opinion polls give 27-33 seats to the BJP and in case the predictions do come true it will be the right wing party's highest tally ever in the state. The BJP's Mission 44+ seems to have gotten dividends as the Modi wave has helped it to the second spot - compared to the 11 seats in the 2008 assembly elections. The party has not name its chief ministerial candidate.

The election outcome will also judge the BJP's assessment of its chances of making inroads into the only Muslim-majority state of the country.

The election will also define the future of the NC, which after 1996 has always emerged as the majority party in the state. Even in 2002 when the PDP-Congress alliance came to power, the NC despite good numbers was forced to stay out because it could not cut an alliance deal with Congress.

While the NC is already claiming a victory, some party leaders are giving away a sense of uneasiness over the results. Sheikh Mustafa Kamal said National Conference will sit in the opposition if it did not get the numbers to form the next government.

Congress, which has been the kingmaker since 2002, seems to have lost much ground to the BJP in Jammu. Now, the winter capital's Muslim-dominated areas hold the key to the Congress' future in the valley. The poll predictions, however, paint a dismal picture for the party and have given it a third slot and a tally which barely crosses the double figure.

Congress, which had 17 MLAs, on the other hand has softened the election rhetoric. Instead of claiming to be the single-largest party, party leaders are maintaining that no government formation will be possible without Congress involvement.

Experts feels a hung assembly will weaken the voice of the valley, and the PDP instead might align with independents as well as local players.

"There is a division of opinion within the PDP, some people insist that Jammu voice needs to be included in the party," said a party source.

Besides the politics, it was the everyday issues that also influenced votes this time. Anti incumbency, youth arrests and killings, hanging of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, cross border firing, slow relief and rehabilitation measures in the wake of the devastating floods would also have an impact on this election.

A war-torn Kashmir had barely managed to recover, the September floods devastated the state further. The herculean task of rebuilding was a major issue in people's mind when they came out to vote.

While some people insisted the 'vote was for change', others said it was for better jobs, good roads, education and healthcare.

The BJP, which won the recent general elections on the development plank, tried to exhorts the youth in the state to vote and be "party to ensured development".

The party's 'omnipresent' Modi factor has to face the biggest test in the state. Whether the party would repeat the Lok Sabha poll magic in Jammu region where Congress was completely washed out or whether Congress will win seats in Muslim majority areas of the region needs to be seen.

Although Jammu might seem tilted towards the BJP, the Muslim-majority Kashmir with 47 seats still holds the key.

(With inputs from PTI)