The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mission 44 may not have succeeded, but its chain reaction transformed the Jammu & Kashmir State Assembly elections as nothing else could have. No one expected the BJP to win 44 seats in the state. But the party’s campaign, involving repeated visits by Narendra Modi and a galaxy of party leaders, resulted, perhaps inadvertently, in an outcome that has been described as the most credible election since 1977. It certainly had the highest turnout ever—66 per cent. It was also the most peaceful election held in the post militancy period.
No one charged anyone with irregularity, and the winners and losers have all accepted the results with some bewilderment and surprise. If there is any party with a grouse, it is actually the winner, the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which emerged as the largest single party with 28 seats in the 87-member legislature. In the runup to the elections, the PDP was expected to be the largest single party, but expectations were that they would be closer to the half way mark in the assembly, say 35 seats, which would have required it to lead a coalition, possibly with the Congress and/or with independents.
‘Mission 44’ was more of a mobilisational slogan than an actual target which brought the party to the number two position with 25 seats. The party may have drawn a blank in the Valley, but perhaps, the failure lies in the failure to effectively mobilise its Kashmiri Pandit supporters. Of 31,000 migrant voters for whom polling booths were set up in New Delhi and Jammu, only 5,169 exercised their franchise. A higher turnout could have assured the BJP’s Moti Koul of victory in Habba Kadal.
Despite their ideological differences, a PDP-BJP tie-up will be the most stable option. This can only benefit the people of J&K
But the ‘Mission 44’s unplanned achievement was to undermine the separatist tactic of boycotting the election. Panicked by the prospect of the BJP making inroads into the Valley, separatists came out to vote and backed the NC, PDP and even the Congress where they could. The figures tell their own story. The turnout in Sopur was 1.03 in the Lok Sabha poll and 30 per cent in the Assembly election, likewise in Tral is was 1.53 per cent in the LS poll and 37.68 for the Assembly. This was the story in other such con stituencies: Pampore 6.14 and 47.48, Pulwama 4.44 and 38.31, Zadibal 5.86 and 23.64, Batmaloo 12.4 and 24.34 and so on.
One beneficiary of this was the National Conference which was expecting a washout, but it actually managed to get 15 seats. Another was the Congress party which lost 12 of the 17 seats it had in the Jammu region. But it picked up four seats in the Valley and three in Ladakh and the other five from the Muslim- majority regions of the Jammu region. It did not win a single seat from the Hindudominated areas of the state.
The BJP’s performance has been its best ever. The party won 8 seats to the Assembly in 1996, 1 in 2002 and 10 in 2008 in the wake of the Amarnath agitation. This time they got 25 seats across the Jammu region. However, all their candidates, but one, lost their deposits in the Kashmir Valley. In terms of sheer numbers, the party can play the role of a king-maker in the Valley.
Given the fractured mandate, almost all permutations and combinations have this infirmity or that. The PDP would prefer teaming up with the weaker Congress party. However, numbers will be an issue and the resulting government may not be very stable. Teaming up with the NC is something of a non sequitur because the two compete for the same space in the Valley. The option that looks the most stable is the one that many consider improbable— a combine of the BJP and the PDP. This could take the form of a coalition, or a commitment on the part of the BJP to support a minority government of the PDP. The argument against this option is that the two are ideologically poles apart. The “soft separatist” PDP will find the going tough with the “hard nationalist” BJP. But stranger things have happened in politics. And, given the special needs of J&K, there is a requirement for a smooth relationship between the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi.
A major problem any new leader of the state must confront is the need to bridge the divide between the Hindumajority areas in Jammu and the Muslim-dominated Valley. Leaving aside the Congress, no party has a presence across the state’s three major geographical regions—Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
The way out could be an MoU between the BJP and PDP, which would commit the latter to come up with legislation to enhance the autonomy between Srinagar, Jammu and Leh. There is an issue which has been doing the rounds since the 1960s and was also the subject of a report in 2000. Perhaps this can be done in the larger context of addressing the demand for greater autonomy by the state as well.
The J&K verdict has devolved a special responsibility on the BJP. It has emerged as the second largest party in the state, but more important, it also runs the Government of India. Narendra Modi will have to take a decision on his party’s perspective in the state as much through the lens of a party leader as the Prime Minister of the country. Nothing should be done which could compel the country to pay a needless price later. It is important to heed the lessons from the Congress’ mishandling of the state in the period 1983-1989.
Mail Today December 24, 2014