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Jammu and Kashmir

Aijaz Ashraf Wani (aijazpol@gmail.com) is with the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar.

 

The 2019 parliamentary elections reaffirmed the fact of regional divide on religious lines in Jammu and Kashmir. Banking on Narendra Modi and Hindutva ideology, the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the polls in Jammu. Amidst the historic low participation in south and central regions of Kashmir division, the National Conference made a solid comeback in the Valley, while People’s Democratic Party’s seemingly unrelenting downslide continued.

(This article was written before 5 August 2019.)

Like in 2014, the 2019 parliamentary election in Jammu and Kashmir  (J&K) witnessed a clear regional and religious divide. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dominated Jammu and Ladakh, while the National Conference (NC) did well in the Muslim majority regions of the Kashmir Valley. However, a major difference being the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) got replaced by the NC. Like 2014, the “Modi wave” and the consolidation of Hindu vote in favour of the BJP was quite visible; in the Kashmir region, the PDP’s sharp decline since its alliance with the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections could be seen in all the three parliamentary seats of the region. However, a deeper analysis of the voting patterns and people’s perceptions/opinions on various issues makes for an interesting reading. The following analysis is based on the aggregate data released by the Election Commission of India and the post-poll survey data from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)–Lokniti, conducted immediately after elections in each parliamentary constituency.

With mainstream space shrinking for quite sometime now in Kashmir, the NC made a resounding comeback in an election that has seen one of the lowest turnouts. With voting being close to 45% there was a slight dip from the 2014 parliamentary elections when the state witnessed total poll percentage of close to 50% (Figure 1, p 21). This is because of the extremely low voter turnout in the Kashmir region. The 2014 parliamentary elections had witnessed a much higher turnout in the Kashmir region than this time around. In 2014, as a counter to the rising BJP wave, the regional political parties, especially the PDP, had been able to mobilise voters to thwart the BJP’s march into the Valley. Nothing of that sort could happen this time around.

Analysing the Verdict

After its 2014 parliamentary elections debacle, the NC bounced back strong, winning all the three seats from the Kashmir region. On the other hand, the PDP continued on its declining trend and even its party chief and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti lost her seat for the first time. The CSDS–Lokniti post-poll survey data show that a very high percentage of respondents (97%) in the Kashmir Valley were dissatisfied with their sitting members of Parliament, who were all from the PDP. Close to two of every 10 (which is highest in Kashmir, where most people said they would boycott elections or did not answer) voters felt close to the NC. Eight of every 10 respondents were completely dissatisfied with the BJP–PDP coalition government. This factor seriously dented the image and electoral prospects of the PDP. The BJP breaking away from its alliance with the PDP appears to have helped it improve its nationalist image in the rest of India as well as in Jammu. The BJP showed it still has a firm grip on Jammu winning both seats with huge margins besides winning the Ladakh seat. The victory was largely due to the Narendra Modi factor and the nature of campaign run by the BJP. There was a tremendous consolidation of Hindu votes behind the BJP. The Lokniti survey indicates that more than nine of every 10 Hindu respondents voted for the BJP. Close to half the respondents said they voted for the prime ministerial candidate. For less than one-seventh respondents, the candidate was the significant consideration while voting.

Though the NC won all the three seats in the Kashmir region, its vote share is constantly declining over a period of time. While low voter turnout could be one reason, still the NC base has been constantly getting eroded. The massive slide of PDP was perhaps the most significant aspect of the election and a deeply worrying factor for the PDP. The BJP on the other hand, has been consistently increasing its vote share, mainly due to its success in mobilising votes in Jammu (Figure 2).

Major Issues of Campaign

The political climate in the Valley has turned much warmer this season with Shah Faesal, an Indian Administrative Service officer-turned-politician, launching a new party called Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM) with the slogan, “ab hawa badlegi” (wind will change now). Faesal supported Engineer Rashid who contested parliamentary elections for the first time from Baramulla parliamantary constituency. The Lok Sabha elections in India were mainly fought on national issues. Back in the state, emotive issues dominated the elections completely. Abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A were BJP’s main election planks, with leaders promising the voters—mainly those in the predominantly Hindu Jammu region—that these two constitutional provisions will be removed if the party is voted to power again. On the other hand, the Congress, NC and PDP vowed to defend these two provisions. “BJP can’t abrogate it (Article 370) even if they rule the country for 200 years. Congress won’t allow anyone to touch the article till the party exists in India,” said senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad while speaking at an election rally in Anantnag (Jaleel 2019). The BJP also consistently invoked the Balakot air strike to woo the voters of the Jammu region. Conversely, the NC and the PDP took recourse to raising the issues related to the state’s special status. Valley-based parties threatened that the relationship between J&K and the rest of the country would come to an end if Article 370 is scrapped. While the BJP promised that nobody could dilute Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, as the party would stand like a rock in support of security forces
(PTI 2019b). The NC and the PDP promised to get rid of this “repressive law.” The NC also promised to get back executive posts of Sadr-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister to the state (PTI 2019a). In Ladakh political parties fought elections on the question of union territory status to the region and development.

Regional Variations

There were massive regional as well as constituency-level variations as far as voter turnout is concerned. The two seats of Jammu region, Udhampur and Jammu, polled over 71% of votes. The lone parliamentary seat of Ladakh saw a turnout of over 72%. Contrary to this, the three seats of Kashmir region—Anantnag, Baramulla and Srinagar—witnessed dismal turnouts. Less than 20% of the voters cast their vote (Figure 3). Each constituency in the Kashmir region witnessed a sharp decline in voter turnout compared to previous elections, with Anantnag being the worst affected. This could be one more factor to explain the PDP’s dismal performance.

One significant aspect of this election in the Kashmir region was the migrant vote. Out of the total 22,750 votes secured by the BJP from the three seats of Kashmir, 11,648 votes, which is more than half, came from Kashmiri Pandit migrants. Of the 10,225 votes received by Sofi Yousuf—the BJP candidate for Anantnag seat—7,251 were migrant votes  http://results.eci.gov.in/pc/en/constituencywise/ConstituencywiseS093.ht...). Of 2,532 migrant votes polled in Baramulla constituency, 1,813 went to the BJP candidate, followed by Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference candidate who received 575 votes (http://results.eci.gov.in/pc/en/constituencywise/ConstituencywiseS091.ht...). This could be due to Sajjad Lone’s open admiration of Modi. Out of the total of 4,631 votes received by the BJP candidate for Srinagar seat, Khalid Jehangir, 2,584 were migrant votes (http://results.eci.gov.in/pc/en/constituencywise/ConstituencywiseS092.ht...). If there is similar boycott as we witnessed during parliamentary elections in most of the areas of south and central Kashmir, it can have a serious impact on the outcome of many assembly segments during the coming assembly elections.

In the Jammu region it was a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP, while in the Kashmir region it was a multi-cornered contest mainly between regional parties, especially the NC and the PDP. The massive victory margins of the BJP candidates in Jammu clearly indicate its strong presence in the region as compared to the Congress. In fact, even the Jammu-based regional parties were not able to dent the BJP vote bank. Even the former BJP minister Choudhary Lal Singh, who had quit the BJP–PDP government and backed the Hindu Ekta Manch, lost his deposit. Same was the case with
candidates of the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (Puri and Wani 2019). Though the NC and the PDP supported Congress in the Jammu region, that did not yield much in electoral terms. Strong support for the BJP among Hindu voters and lacklustre campaign by the Congress and its allies led to an impressive victory for the BJP. There was a clear divide visible among voters on religious lines in the Jammu region (Table 2).

Regional variations were also evident in the party performances. The bulk of the Congress vote came from Jammu and Ladakh. The BJP too, received most of its votes in the same Jammu and Ladakh regions. On the contrary, the two main regional parties, the NC and PDP-dominated the Kashmir region. It may be mentioned that both parties did not field candidates in the Jammu region (Table 3).

The regional divide was also visible in the prime ministerial choice of respondents and their satisfaction with the central government (Figure 4). While in Jammu, six of every 10 respondents wanted Modi as Prime Minister, in Kashmir region 1% was in his favour. Six of every 10 respondents in Jammu said that they were satisfied with the central government in comparison to just 2% in the Valley. Similarly while in Jammu, six of every 10 respondents wanted the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to return to power, in Valley only 2% wanted the NDA back in power.

Beyond Parliamentary Elections

Beyond electoral numbers there are some interesting findings from the survey that need to be highlighted. While in Jammu, the BJP got a massive mandate for the parliamentary elections, however the survey showed that the BJP has a serious regional leadership crisis. Similarly, while the broad picture is that of a regional divide, this difference of opinion narrows down on certain significant regional issues.

When asked if assembly elections are held in J&K tomorrow, which party would you vote for, over one-thirds of the respondents in Jammu said that they will vote for the BJP but a significant one-fourth said that they will vote for NC followed by one of every 10 supporting the Congress. The NC received high levels of support in the Kashmir Valley (Table 4, p 22).

Putting the above figures with the preference of chief minister points towards a favourable situation for NC. The BJP seems to face a serious crisis as far as its regional leadership is considered. This fact can play an important role in the upcoming assembly elections in the state.

In Jammu, Jitendra Singh was the choice for the chief minister’s post for around 5% of the respondents (Table 5). In contrast Omar Abdullah is a preferred choice in both regions, while support for Mehbooba Mufti is less than that for Omar Abdullah and is limited to the Kashmir Valley.

The 2019 parliamentary elections results indicate a clear regional polarisation in J&K. While the BJP was able to further strengthen its hold among Hindu voters in Jammu, the results in the Kashmir region indicate that the PDP’s alliance with the BJP and the subsequent events have seriously dented its public image. With the BJP back in power under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah as new home minister, Kashmir and Kashmiris will be eagerly watching each move of New Delhi. Much of what is going to happen in the region in general and during the coming assembly elections in particular will largely depend on the Kashmir policy New Delhi is going to follow.

References

Jaleel, Muzamil (2019): “Emotive Issues Dominate Election Scene in J&K,” Asia Age, 26 April.

PTI (2019a): “Will Strive to Bring Back ‘President’, ‘PM’ in J&K: Omar; Modi Condemns Remark,” Economic Times, 1 April.

— (2019b): “No Body Can Dilute AFSPA, BJP Will be Rock Solid in Support of Forces: Amit Shah,” Economic Times, 3 April.

Puri, Elloora and Aijaz Ashraf Wani (2019): “Post-Poll Survey: PDP Loses Its Standing in Kashmir, BJP Unchallenged in Jammu,” Hindu, 29 May.

Updated On : 30th Aug, 2019

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