State of parties: Fringe players Panthers, BSP have failed to make a mark
The politics of J&K has its share of regional outfits and also the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) seeking to make a mark.
Chief among the fringe players on the regional landscape is the J&K National Panthers Party (JKNPP). Founded in November 1982, it has remained a fringe player even after decades. It could not even emerge a regional party of Jammu, thought it had high ambitions.
The party is primarily limited to Udhampur district, from where it had won two out of the three seats in the last assembly election. The party was founded by Prof Bhim Singh, a former Congress MLA, who had locked horns with the then chief minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and emerged as the voice of the Jammu. But, because of inconsistency in the latter years, he lost the tag.
In the 2002 elections, the party surprisingly won four seats and was in coalition with the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led government. In 2008, the tally dropped to three.
The main issue with the party is that its narrative of securing "rights" for Jammu faces tough competition not only from BJP but also Congress. Even though it projects itself as a secular party, it couldn't find any takers in Kashmir; in Ladakh it doesn't have any imprint.
The Panthers' brand of politics makes it, effectively, a sister-concern of the BJP. It failed to create a political identity in the manner that the PDP did in Kashmir, but, of course, it also didn't have the support of the central government in the manner that the PDP had.
As for the BSP, despite the fact that there are seven SC-reserveD seats in the Jammu region that has 37 assembly seats, the party failed to emerge as the voice of Dalits (Scheduled Castes), its core base. There is a deficit of leadership and, thus, of credibility.
It put up its best show in 1996 when it won two seats, even the unreserved Kathua seat. It could have posed a serious challenge to the Congress but failed to take off. In 2002, it won one seat. Last time, it won none.
The Congress, National Conference and the BJP have given strong SC leadership. Deputy CM Tara Chand from the Congress is also a Dalit.
This time, Panthers be contesting 85 of the 87 seats, though it is likely to struggle to retain its three seats. In Udhampur, it is facing a tough fight from the BJP. It is banking on BJP's infighting. In Ramnagar, Panthers' Harsh Dev is the two-time MLA, but will be tested by the BJP candidate who has just switched sides from the Congress. Here too the choice of the BJP candidate could work for the Panthers.
BSP will be contesting all 87 seats, but is unlikely to open its account.
Seats contested: 73
Vote share: 3.33%
Seats contested: 83
Votes share: 3.73%