Friday, January 9, 2015
Yes the BJP made a mark in J&K but was it worth the compromise?
People of Jammu and Kashmir have given a fractured mandate. The emergence of BJP as a formidable force should ideally have been the biggest takeaway of this election because the PDP hasn’t done as well as it was supposed to. But the fractured mandate has thrown up more questions than this election was supposed to answer. Omar Abdullah ran a very spirited campaign although odds were heavily pitted against him, not just on account of poor governance but also because of his failure to provide succour to people during floods. The virtually non-existent Congress campaign wasn’t such a damp squib after all.
BJP’s Mission 44+ took off in Jammu but failed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel. They managed to get only less than two per cent of the vote in the Valley. This was despite the fact that they made all kinds of ideological compromises, some completely unnecessary. Their meetings with obscurantist Islamist figureheads like the Grand Mufti or Engineer Rashid (the MLA from Langate) was something they could have done without. They toned down their stated position on Article 370 to tailor their campaign to what they thought were the “aspirations” of Kashmiris (read Kashmiri Muslims). Credit was taken for punishing the army personnel “responsible” for killings of innocent Kashmiris, by no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. There was a passing reference to the settlement of Kashmiri Pandits and no word on the Temples Bill. Forget Vande Matram, the PM found it unnecessary even to say Jai Hind in his maiden rally in Srinagar. Its strident nationalist discourse in Jammu was, however, on course and observers were heard saying the BJP is a different party in Kashmir than the one in Jammu. Be that as it may, its ascendancy in J&K’s political scene is a watershed event.
The PDP did well in its traditional bastions of South Kashmir and also managed to edge out National Conference from Srinagar city apart from making some inroads into the hilly areas of Rajouri and Poonch. Needless to say its campaign was more targeted against the NC but acerbic against the “Hindu invasion” by BJP. Complacency however did it in. Somehow it believed that Omar’s poor governance meant people would queue up to vote for PDP, which definitely wasn’t the case. The losses in Pampore and Tral were unexpected and indicated how things had gone wrong.
The NC was the underdog in this election. They knew they were up against a wall especially after the flood. They tried convincing the Election Commission to postpone the election in order to buy some time and gain some goodwill. In the ten days that I spent in the State during the second and third phase of polling I saw the NC campaign at work. They were fighting this election as if it was their last. Their rallies were well attended, even the filing of nominations by their candidates were events by themselves. Despite massive erosion of goodwill, they still managed to win 17 seats (including two independents backed by it), a number they themselves would have been surprised with.
The only solace for the non-existent Congress campaign was their candidates, who won more on their individual goodwill rather than the name of the party.
By the evening of December 23, the ideological barriers had crumbled. All “options are on the table” was the oft heard comment from spokespersons of all political parties. The courting was happening publicly, doors were kept open and none seemed to be untouchable except the Congress whom no one wanted to touch even with a barge pole. Sensing the mood of its erstwhile allies, the Congress spokespersons fell back upon how secularism needed to be protected in the sensitive state of J&K or how otherwise armies of rabid Hindutvavadis would convert the entire Valley via its Ghar Vapasi programme. They were joined by the die-hard political pundits who one after another told the PDP spokespersons how aligning with a communal BJP would amount to disrespecting the mandate of the Kashmiris. All those who vociferously supported PDP all through now were criticising it because it was seen as cozying up not just to its enemy but the enemy of the liberals.
There was a powerful rumour on the eve of counting day, that Mehbooba Mufti had supposedly met BJP leaders. The talk of an understanding between the PDP and the BJP had even surfaced during the General Elections as well. An alliance between the BJP and the PDP is always going to be difficult not because of ideological issues but regional issues. BJP has shown its ideological flexibility during the campaign itself. As for PDP, it understands the importance of being with a party which is in power in the Centre. By allying with the BJP, PDP would ensure that Omar is out of power for six years. This combination would perhaps be the only one representing the largest section of the population of J&K.
The NC is very keen to join hands with whoever takes its support and gives it crumbs of power. One would stretch the argument too far if one says Omar and NC wouldn’t survive without power for six years but one cannot deny that the NC is possibly at its lowest ebb today. Its fiercest supporters, the Gandhis, are themselves touching a new political low with every election and Omar knows his best chance lies with the BJP. How keen is the BJP for his support and what terms they set and whether those terms are acceptable to Omar remains to be seen. As I write this, Omar Abdullah is meeting “communal” BJP leaders in Delhi. In Srinagar he would do everything possible to keep communal forces at bay even if that means tying up with his arch rival the PDP. The PDP is keeping the offer of NC support on a slow burner.
The Azadi and the boycottwalas feel left out in the cold and are dubbing any alliance with the BJP as unholy. No doubt there are no good options for any political party in J&K right now, not even the BJP. There will be a lot of explaining to do if “soft separatism” ties a knot with "nationalism”. For now expect no progress on “contentious” issues like Article 370, self rule, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, delimitation and AFSPA. We will have six years to figure out whether all this is in the national interest or in the interest of the people of the State of J&K.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Roots in Kashmir