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Jammu & Kashmir Lok Sabha Elections, 2014

By:
Aijaz Ashraf Wani
Source:
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Jammu & Kashmir Lok Sabha Elections, 2014

Jammu and Kashmir is the northernmost state of India, bordering China in north and east and Pakistan-Administrated Kashmir in the west. With a population of 12.55 million per the latest census of 2011, the state is divided into three broad regions namely, Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, and Ladakh. They are further subdivided into twenty-two districts—ten in Kashmir, ten in Jammu, and two in Ladakh. Srinagar, located in central Kashmir, is the summer capital of the state, while Jammu is the winter capital. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a multiethnic, multi-religious, multilingual, and multicultural state. According to the 2011 census, Islam is practiced by 68.31 percent of the total population, making it the only state within the Indian Union with a Muslim-majority population. Islam is followed by Hinduism at 28.43 percent. The state is home to other minorities as well—Sikhs (1.87%), Christians (0.28%), Buddhists (0.89%), etc. Major ethnic groups in the state include Kashmiris (mostly living in the Kashmir Valley), Gujjars/Bakarwals, Paharis (both spread in Kashmir and the Jammu region), Dogras (concentrated mostly in the Jammu region), and Ladakhis (living in the Ladakh region). In terms of religion, the Kashmir Valley is predominantly Muslim with around 97 percent of the population practicing Islam (mostly Sunnī but the region also has a good percentage of Shia Muslims as well). The Jammu region has a 60 percent Hindu population, 36 percent Muslim population, and 4 percent Sikh population. As far as the Ladkah region is concerned, it has a 50 percent Muslim population (mostly Shia Muslims), a 44 percent Buddhist population, and a 6 percent Hindu population. Buddhists are mostly concentrated in the Leh district and Muslims in the Kargil district of the region (2011 Census).

In terms of electoral politics, Jammu and Kashmir has six parliamentary constituencies—three in the Kashmir region, two in the Jammu region, and one in Ladakh. The state has eighty-seven State Assembly (lower/popular house of state government, also known as the Lok Sabha) constituencies. The Kashmir Valley has forty-six constituencies, the Jammu region has thirty-seven, and the Ladakh region has four electoral constituencies.

It is in this context that the parliamentary election of 2014 was held, one of the most important in the region’s history. The election was held in the wake of the 2010 mass uprising that started after the Indian Army allegedly killed three “Pakistani infiltrators.” This was later revealed to be a case of a fake encounter in which a soldier of the Territorial Army, a counterinsurgent group, and a former special police officer had lured three young men from their Nadihal village in Baramulla district and killed them in a staged encounter. The protests were launched by the Hurriyat Conference, a separatist group led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz (chief priest) Umar Farooq, and the violent encounter with police resulted in 112 civilian deaths. The election also occurred shortly after the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, who was given the death sentence by the Supreme Court of India for his alleged role in the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

The six parliamentary constituencies of the state—three in the Kashmir Valley (Anantnag, Baramulla, and Srinagar), two in Jammu (Jammu and Udhampur), and one of Ladakh—went to the polls in five phases, with all the sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) losing their seats and the National Conference (NC) and the Indian National Congress (INC) party being replaced by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The state’s oldest party, the National Conference, earlier represented the three parliamentary constituencies of the Kashmir Valley while as the two seats of the Jammu area were represented by the Congress along with one independent candidate representing Ladakh. The National Conference had its origins in the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, founded in 1932 under the leadership of Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah. Though its ideology was secular in orientation, the name Muslim Conference was largely the outcome of a boycott of the party by Hindus. However, in order to appear more secular in its orientation, its name was changed to the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference in 1939, largely under the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Indian National Congress. The party was founded with the aim of fighting for the rights of downtrodden sections of society who suffered under the feudal Dogra rule. After the independence of India and the creation of J&K, power was transferred to the National Conference under the leadership of Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah, who headed the first democratic government of the state. In contrast, the Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 during British rule as a platform for Indians to express their grievances. The Indian National Congress led the freedom movement of India and after independence dominated the political scene of India for most part of its independent history.

The Congress and the National Conference went into the election under a pre-poll alliance. Under this seat-sharing arrangement the Congress got Jammu-Poonch and Kathua-Udhampur-Doda (both located in the Jammu region) and Ladakh parliamentary constituencies, while the National Conference contested in the Srinagar, Anantnag, and Baramulla parliamentary constituencies, respectively. The pre-poll alliance between the National Conference–Congress made it a direct contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu and Ladakh, and between the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir.

However, the results were disappointing for both partners. The alliance not only suffered defeat but their vote share also witnessed considerable decline as compared to the 2009 parliamentary elections, especially that of the NC. The party’s vote share dipped from 19.1 percent to 11.1 percent, while the Congress ended up securing 22.9 percent of the votes compared with 24.7 percent in 2009. The PDP’s vote share remained intact at 20.5 percent while the BJP’s share went up from 18.6 percent in 2009 to 32.4 percent. The huge rise in the BJP’s share was largely due to the party’s big victories over the Congress in the Jammu region. The party won all the seats in the Jammu region with huge margins, indicating a consolidation of the Hindu vote behind the BJP in the region. While issues such as the abrogation of Article 370 (which provided Special Status or Autonomy to the State of J&K) and the political aspirations of the Jammu region helped the BJP, equally important was the role played by Narendra Damodardas Modi, the party’s leader and the former chief minister the State of Gujarat (2001–2014). During the 2014 parliamentary election, the BJP framed its campaign around the personality of Modi, who was projected as a strong Hindu Nationalist. This successful strategy came to be called as “Modi wave.”

In the Jammu-Poonch parliamentary constituency, BJP’s Jugal Kishore defeated his Congress party rival by a huge margin of 257,282 votes. In Udhampur-Doda, Congress stalwart and former Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad lost to the BJP’s first-time but formidable political rival Dr. Jitendera Singh by 60,976 votes. The BJP’s win was widely attributed to the Modi wave as the Congress fared badly in the Assembly segments held by prominent Congress ministers including then Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand.

The election also witnessed the emergence of the People’s Democratic Party, which was founded as a regional J&K party in 1999 by the former Union Home Minister of India,Mufti Mohammad Syed, and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. The party first came to power in the state in 2002 in alliance with the Congress, winning sixteen seats in the Assembly elections and forming a coalition government. Since then has been a serious competitor in Kashmir. Though the National Conference historically dominated the Kashmir Valley, the 2014 parliamentary election saw the debacle of the incumbent coalition government, and the NC was routed in the Kashmir region by the PDP, which swept all the three parliamentary seats in Kashmir. The NC also lost the Srinagar parliamentary seat after three decades. This is significant, taking into account the fact that Srinagar has historically been a bastion of the National Conference. Its vote share has been consistently declining since the 1998 parliamentary election, going from 36.4 percent in 1998 to 11.1 percent in 2014. The PDP on the other hand has seen its vote share increase since the 2004 election, although the rise was marginal this time around as compared to 2009.This is an indication that electoral competition in the state has intensified.

The BJP won the Ladakh seat by a much narrower margin. The country’s largest parliamentary segment geographically, Ladakh- recorded one of the lowest victory margins in the Lok Sabha elections with BJP candidate Thupstan Chhewang defeating his nearest rival Ghulam Raza, a Congress rebel, who was campaigning as an Independent candidate, with a narrow margin of thirty-six votes. This was for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir that the BJP had won the Ladakh parliamentary seat. The victory of the BJP could be attributed to strong ideological differences between Buddhists and Shia Muslims in the Ladakh region, the Modi wave, the BJP’s commitment to give Ladakh the status of Union Territory (an administrative designation that would grant more autonomy to the region), and deep factionalism within the Congress. Once again, the failure of the NC–Congress pre-poll alliance on the ground was evident. As per the agreement between the two parties, the Ladakh parliamentary seat was given to the Congress and the NC was expected to back its alliance partner candidate. However, in reality not only the NC workers but even some prominent NC leaders from the Ladakh region openly supported the candidature of Aga Syed Kazim Sabri, an Independent candidate.

The central issues over which the political parties tried to woo voters varied in nature—ranging from regional issues to general ones. The ruling coalition partners’ mobilization strategy revolved around attacking the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and his party’s agenda, described as “communal and divisive.” The BJP was accused of propagating the policy of divide and rule. The BJP mobilized the Hindu vote bank of Jammu on issues such as the Abrogation of Article 370, the promise of a Hindu chief minister for the state, and the problem of regional discrimination (i.e., Jammu being discriminated against by Kashmir-based political leadership).

In general, opposition parties raised the issue of corruption and misgovernance by the United Progressive Alliance UPA government at the center, and raised similar concerns about the NC–Congress coalition in the state. The BJP specifically focused on the failure of the NC–Congress coalition to grant a development council for Jammu, a one-time rehabilitation package, and citizenship rights to West Pakistani refugees in Jammu, who had come from Pakistan at the time of the partition of India in 1947. (It is estimated that there are over 25,000 West Pakistani families in the Jammu region). In addition, the BJP promised to address the regional disparity once the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) assumed power in New Delhi. The party also promised to generate a positive debate on Article 370 as to whether it has benefited or harmed the state.

In the Kashmir region, banking on the anti-incumbency factor, the PDP chose to raise the issues such as the civilian killings in 2009 and 2010 and the hanging of Afzal Guru. Furthermore, it also targeted the coalition government on the issues of governance—health, education, employment, etc. On the other hand NC–Congress coalition leaders mobilized people around the need to contain Modi and the policies of the Manmohan Singh–led United Progressive Alliance government at the center. These policies included the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) that guaranteed one hundred days of employment to unskilled manual laborers every financial year as a matter of right; the Right to Information Act, enabling citizens to secure information from public offices; the National Rural Health Mission, to improve health facilities in rural areas; the National Food Security Act, ensuring subsidized food grains to people living below poverty line, etc.

The 2014 parliamentary election clearly signified a vote for change. For the first time the state’s oldest party, the National Conference, would not be represented in Parliament and the Congress lost its position as the predominant national player in the state.

Riding on the Modi wave and anti-incumbency feeling against the Congress-led UPA national government, the Bharatiya Janata Party was able to consolidate the Hindu vote in Jammu to dislodge the Congress, while in Valley, the People’s Democratic Party benefited from the anti-incumbency feeling against the NC–Congress coalition government in the state. The boycott call given by the separatists (popularly known as the Hurriyat Conference) generated a mixed response, with the Valley mostly responding positively, while the Jammu and Ladakh areas voted in large numbers. With the intensification of electoral competition, voters have become conscious of the options available to them, and the survival of nonperforming parties and candidates has become tough. Voters’ discontent with the coalition was visible on account of the failure of the government to check corruption and inflation, together with poor health care, the pathetic condition of roads, and brutal police response to protests. Along with these issues of governance, Afzal Guru’s hanging and the killings of more than a hundred youth in the 2010 protests were the other important reasons for the debacle of the National Conference in Kashmir and the Congress in the 2014 parliament elections.

The results of the Indian parliamentary elections in Kashmir also dismantled the concept of a “traditional vote bank.” In fact one of the biggest shocks that this election gave to the NC was the breakdown of its traditional vote bank in the Kangan assembly constituency of the Ganderbal district, some 21 kilometers north of Srinagar, and in the Charar-e-Sharif assembly constituency of Budgam district, some 28 kilometers east of Srinagar. NC candidates had always represented these two constituencies since 1957, when the first Assembly election in the state was held. Also contrary to the traditional notion that a call for an election boycott helps the NC, the party lost despite the fact that more than 70 percent people did not come out to vote. In fact the NC suffered heavily in some of the areas that had been its traditional strongholds and saw impressive voting this time around also. What surprised the political pundits was that the committed voters of the NC, including its own party workers, did not come out to vote, costing the party dearly.

Making the situation more complex is the rise of right wing Hindutva (12) forces in the Jammu region. Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism is an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindu culture or way of life. This is a term coined by the Venayak Damodar Sawarkar (Hindutva Ideologue) in 1923 to refer to a predominant form of Hindu nationalism. The BJP adopted Hindutva as its official policy in 1989. Though usually considered a cultural rather than a religious ideology, in modern times Hindutva ideology is seen as instilling fear and encouraging grievances among the majority Hindu community against minorities, especially Muslims and Christians. As a result, traditional forces such as the National Conference and Congress have found it difficult to hold their ground. However, the regional polarization that is becoming more evident with the rise of these forces can prove detrimental for the state, as it has the potential to create a more divisive form of politics.

The results of the parliamentary elections immediately started casting a shadow on the upcoming Assembly election in the state. With the BJP winning three parliamentary seats, there was also clamor for having a Hindu chief minister in the state. The Assembly election was held in five phases in the wake of massive floods in September 2014 that brought unprecedented devastation to Kashmir. Soon after the announcement of the election, all the major political parties came up with their election manifestoes. The BJP appeared desperate to open its maiden account in the Kashmir Valley. The ruling NC–Congress coalition, having been wiped out in 2014, chose not to enter into a pre-poll alliance. The PDP, meanwhile, was hoping to get a clear majority in the Assembly, as there were apprehensions that the NC and Congress were not going to get to the double-digit numbers. The BJP infused new life into the election by setting itself a goal of winning at least 44 seats with its Mission 44+ plan.

However, the 2014 Assembly election produced a fractured mandate in which no political party was able to get an absolute majority to form a government on its own. The PDP emerged the single largest party with twenty-eight seats followed by the BJP with twenty-five seats. The National Conference got fifteen seats and its coalition partner the Congress was able to win twelve seats.

In the backdrop of the present political scenario, it was indeed a challenge to form a government, which had to be a coalition government. After hectic deliberation over the period of a month, the stalemate was broken and two ideologically divergent parties, the PDP and BJP, formed the government in the state. It is a contentious coalition, as on almost all important issues concerning state these parties have divergent views. While the PDP believes in dialogue with separatists within Kashmir, the BJP does not consider them a party to the dispute. Again the PDP has all along advocated dialogue between India and Pakistan, while the BJP has accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism and argues that dialogue can only start when Pakistan ceases these activities. While the BJP has always been in favor of the abrogation of Article 370, resulting in the complete merger of J&K State with the Indian Union, the PDP advocates for greater autonomy or what they call self-rule within the Indian Union. Again, while the PDP has always followed a soft policy toward separatists, the BJP believes in dealing a hard-hand with them. The PDP advocates for greater trade and people-to-people contact across the border by making borders soft, while the BJP does not favor this policy and has advocated the tightening of borders.

Both the Parliament and Assembly elections of 2014 in Jammu and Kashmir saw the emergence of the BJP in the power corridors of the state and brought the communal forces to center stage of Jammu and Kashmir politics. The BJP’s position changed completely in the 2014 elections. Rather than being one among the many parties of Jammu, it has emerged as the dominant party of the region, leaving the NC and Congress way behind. The 2014 outcome reflects a serious challenge to the politics of J&K, which is already polarized along regional lines. With a fractured verdict on a regional basis, there is a serious concern that the politics of the three regions and sub-regions may be pushed in opposite directions and might allow a foothold for communal politics in sensitive areas of the region.

Bibliography

  • Chowdhary, Rekha. “BJP’s Unprecedented Victory in Jammu.” Economic & Political Weekly 1, no. 70 (2015): 73.
  • “Congress Leaders Admit Cross Voting by Party Workers.” Kashmir Reader, 17 May 2014.
  • Government of India. Census of India, 2011.
  • Government of Jammu & Kashmir, Chief Electoral Officer Srinagar. ceojk.nic.in/.
  • 98% NC workers voted for PDP: Cong.” www.preciouskashmir.com/98-nc-workers-voted-for-pdp-cong/.
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