No Lok Sabha elections have been crucial for the Kashmir valley and its people than this Lok Sabha elections, where “Pulwama”, “Kashmir’s constitutional link with mainland India under Article 370 and Article 35A” and “national security”, all three constituted a significant part of the national poll agenda espoused specifically by the BJP and its national leaders. It doesn’t matter that Kashmir valley only contributes 3 Lok Sabha seats to the parliamentary elections and therefore no Kashmir based party is likely to have any major importance in any post-election alliance in Delhi, but given the fact that “Kashmir narrative” has managed to capture national imagination has meant that Kashmir has now acquired larger than life center stage in national politics of India, thanks largely to its push by the BJP, which most exit polls are predicting, will once again capture power in Delhi, perhaps with even greater majority than before. But the greater question that arises is that, what does it all mean for the people of Kashmir valley and the J&K state, especially in view of the pending J&K state assembly elections? The big story of this Lok Sabha election is how the BJP has managed to set the agenda at every stage of the seven stage polling with other political parties including both Congress and so called “third front” having been reduced to reactionary forces, whether it is the role of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 Sikh riots or BJP’s very open and public confrontation with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, the BJP has clearly been in the leading seat in formulating poll narrative. What however, most people in Kashmir valley tend to deliberately ignore is the fact that it is not only in the national politics of mainland India but the BJP has also emerged as the only political pivot around which entire politics of even J&K state now revolves.
BJP is already the largest party of the J&K in terms of the vote share, though most of that comes from densely populated Hindu dominated areas of Jammu. However, BJP has also emerged as a major political player in Muslim dominated areas of Jammu like Pir Panjal and Chenab valley as well as Buddhist dominated Leh region of Ladakh and has even opened its account in Shia dominated Kargil, where the BJP recently won its first ever seat in local Kargil autonomous council. It is only the Kashmir valley, with the largest number of assembly segment seats in J&K, that has so far resisted the advent and spread of BJP, but things have been evolving very fast in Kashmir valley and that could have far reaching consequences for the electoral politics of J&K. The chances of BJP making any electoral gains in an overwhelmingly Muslim majority Kashmir valley is very bleak, but the badly divided electoral political field of Kashmir valley has made BJP, perhaps the most powerful political party of the J&K, given the fact that Hindu dominated assembly segments of Jammu continue to remain solidly behind BJP and Congress has weakened considerably, having only pockets of influence in Jammu, Ladakh & Kashmir.
If BJP indeed comes to power in Delhi on 23rd and buoyant by that, the Modi government does indeed decide to hold J&K state assembly elections in July then the chances are that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party of the J&K, with Kashmir valley getting badly split among 5 political blocks. While North Kashmir will see a four-corner fight among the resurgent People’s Conference of Sajad Lone, PDP, NC and newly formed JKPM of Shah Faesal; Central Kashmir will see a tough fight between PDP and NC and South Kashmir will mostly see the continuing dominance of PDP with little pockets of resistance from Congress. Also add to this messy Kashmiri political soup, independents like Engineer Rashid, Hakim Mohammad Yasin and Mohammad Yusuf Taragami. All this basically means that electoral politics in J&K will perhaps go back to 2014, wherein the dilemma that PDP faced, will once again be faced by whichever Kashmir based party emerges as the largest – “What to do with Jammu?” The “Jammu factor”, which most people in Kashmir valley ignore, cannot however be ignored by Kashmir based political parties, who are under moral and ethical obligation to take “both” Jammu & Kashmir regions together, regardless of that region having given them mandate or not. Neither Kashmir based parties nor BJP can form the government that only has cabinet from only one religion or region. This essentially means that neither can BJP form government only with Sajad Lone’s PC and nor can NC or PDP form government only with each other or with Congress because that will keep a big chunk of Jammu Hindus or Kashmiri Muslims unrepresented. Earlier, when Congress was a dominant force in Hindu areas of Jammu, alliance of Kashmir based parties with Congress would include Hindus of Jammu, but with decimation of Congress in Hindu areas of Jammu and its replacement by BJP, the entire dynamics of government formation has changed in J&K state. The earlier “experiment” of BJP – PDP alliance boomeranged as neither the people of Kashmir valley and Jammu region accepted this alliance nor were these political parties able to work cohesively under the weight of contrasting political ideologies. The result was the collapse of the alliance. But the harsh truth is that “there is no other choice” but to forge such kind of alliance once again. It is a bitter pill that needs to be swallowed by everyone. The political engagement of the resurgent BJP, by a Kashmir based party may perhaps have a moderating impact on BJP, which runs its nationalist agenda based largely on Kashmir. It is however the people of both Kashmir valley and Jammu that will have to accept the changing political reality of the J&K state. Will that happen and will political parties of J&K be able to convince the electorate of both Kashmir valley and Jammu to this “harsh truth”, only time will tell.
(The author is a political activist and aspiring politician, who has worked as PRO to Omar Abdullah the Ex Chief Minister. He has also many years of corporate work experience at some of top Fortune-500 companies like INFOSYS TECHNOLOGIES BANGALORE… Views are his own firstname.lastname@example.org)