The commission’s proposal to increase six seats for the Jammu division and one for the Kashmir division, has evoked sharp reactions from regional parties. However, all of them, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – are preparing for the electoral battle of 2022, despite the fact that this assembly will be weaker than that of the erstwhile state of J&K.
As per Union home minister Amit Shah, statehood will be restored once the delimitation process is completed and elections are conducted. The anomalous nature of the situation on the ground in Kashmir may spring some surprise in 2022.
“Elections in J&K are likely to happen around September or October next year as the BJP would be busy with elections in other states, especially UP, and then the Amarnath Yatra is scheduled in Kashmir from June to August,” a senior official from the administration told ET.
The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a grouping of regional parties like the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party and the CPM, which was formed in October 2020 and led by Farooq Abdullah to fight for the restoration of special status and statehood of J&K, has planned to fight it out together. But their experience in the District Development Council elections in 2020, hasn’t been picture perfect. At several places, the parties fought against each other by fielding independent candidates or engineering support for the opposition.
Outside this grouping is the Congress, Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party launched in March 2020 and Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference, which parted ways from the PAGD after the DDC elections. The PAGD often paints the Apni Party and PC as ‘outsiders’ to the natural electoral ecosystem of J&K, but both parties have managed to pull out candidates from the PAGD constituents.
What Does Data reflect?
Going by the 2014 assembly elections data in J&K, PDP had won the majority of 28 seats followed by BJP with 25, NC (15), Congress (12), PC (2), independents (3), CPM (1) and People’s Democratic Front (1). Of the voting percentage of 65.91%, BJP got 23%, PDP 22.7%, NC 20.8% and Congress 18%.
In Kashmir, the situation has changed drastically as at least 16 of PDP’s winning candidates from 2014, were sacked, have resigned or deserted the party. At least 10 of them have joined Bukhari, while four have joined Lone’s PC.
The National Conference has problems in two of its bastions in Kashmir as former legislators like Aga Ruhullah of Budgam and Ishfaq Jabbar of Ganderbal aren’t happy within the party and have expressed their concerns vociferously.
The Congress is battling infighting within the party and lost at least three assembly seats to Ladakh UT and in the Valley some promising candidates are expressing allegiance to Ghulam Nabi Azad.
In Jammu, where the BJP bagged 25 seats in the earlier elections, the party has consolidated its position, by getting National Conference’s Devinder Singh Rana and two others to their fold. This will help the BJP to increase its tally in Jammu. If the final delimitation report maintains the draft proposal suggestions, then the BJP’s dream of having a chief minister from Jammu may not be too far off. In October 2020, some 20 political and religious parties in Jammu, joined hands to sign a document ‘Jammu Declaration’ demanding ‘statehood’ for Jammu region. They lamented persistent neglect and deprivation of the Jammu region with the Union Territory, despite abrogation of special status.
Azad’s independent rendezvous in Jammu has compromised Congress’ position – which will benefit the BJP. “Azad’s understanding of Congress’ politics across the country is phenomenal. His breaking away from the party would always be of great help to the BJP not only here but elsewhere in the country as well,” said Professor Dipankar Sengupta, who teaches Economics at Jammu University. “These political parties don’t want grassroot empowerment and that is why they don’t want to empower DDCs,” said Sengupta.
What The DDC Polls Reflect
In the DDC elections, the BJP emerged as the largest individual party winning 75 of the 278 seats, followed by NC’s 67, and 50 by independents. However, PAGD won over 110 seats and has chairmanship of eight of the 20 DDCs while the BJP has chairmanship of six, Apni Party and People’s Conference have two each and the remaining two are headed by independents. “No single party will get a majority on its own,” says Sengupta.
What Political Parties Say
Political parties frequently raise the issue of the regional divide between Jammu and Srinagar and all, except the BJP, talk about the restoration of statehood and special status of the J&K. However, nobody is negating the possibility of an alliance government.
“This unity of J&K is a myth. The two regions have never been emotionally together, at least since 1931. In 1983, Rajiv Gandhi came to Jammu and told voters that if they vote for NC, Jammu will become Pakistan, so nothing new is happening here. The end of the old is not necessarily the beginning of the new,” said Zafar Manhas of J&K Apni Party.
“Everybody wants to be part of the electoral process despite the shock of August 5, 2019 and knowing well that the elected members will have no power. It is about day-to-day survival of politicians,” Manhas added. He said there would be huge fragmentation of votes in Kashmir but consolidation in Jammu.
“Election boycott will also play a role in Kashmir. There should be no unfounded optimism. There is no promised land waiting for us,” he said.
PDP’s chief spokesperson Suhail Bukhari said, “August 5, 2019, added another layer of complexity to this region. Our cause is larger than the elections and we will work for the goals the PAGD has set,” said Bukhari.
NC spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar says J&K was facing serious challenges and fighting for the restoration of Article 370 and 35 (A). “We had momentarily lost an important member in Jammu, but it happens in politics. DDC elections have proven that we are a force to reckon with,” said Dar.
People’s Conference spokesperson Adnan Ashraf said, “Development cannot be the only plank in the elections. A fight between two regions of Kashmir and Jammu has emerged, especially after the delimitation commission report (proposals). It is not going to be a normal election like 2014. Identity and governance centre is changing.”
“There is no possibility of boycott and we are occupying this space. But we oppose the decisions of August 5, 2019 and the laws passed after that. This delimitation exercise will impact our future generations,” he said. He claims PAGD is non-existent on the ground. “NC leaders are already criticising their PAGD colleagues in public rallies,” he said.
BJP’s senior functionary in J&K, Arun Gupta, says Kashmir-based politicians invoke regional divide for their survival. “People who didn’t get justice in their governments are witnessing development and getting justice,” said Gupta.
He is confident that the BJP will win sizeable seats in the next elections in the Valley. “Let us not talk about parties. We have to focus on the next government which is concerned about people’s welfare. Under the BJP-led central government, people are getting empowered at the grassroots. People in J&K will give due recognition to BJP,” said Gupta.
“Government formation is not the proprietary of any family or region. Our constitution gives equal chances to all,” he said. “BJP has no hidden agenda and we don’t work with anybody especially clandestinely (including Ghulab Nabi Azad),” he said.
“Parties in Kashmir follow a set agenda to remain in power. They won’t do anything different if elections happen in 2022. It is not an ideological grouping and cannot emerge in a new avatar,” says Khalid Wasim Hassan, assistant professor at department of political science and governance in the Central University of Kashmir. Hassan believes that the delimitation commission proposal is “an agenda offered by the Government of India to these parties, so that they can go to people and manage to get some traction. Otherwise, they have lost their bargaining power.”