The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is the only state where Muslims are not in a minority. The five-phase election process has begun there, the results of which are scheduled to be declared on Dec. 23. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is apparently confident that the Modi wave will help it win J&K assembly elections. BJP’s confidence rests partly on it having secured victory in the three out of six seats in the Lok Sabha from this state. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won the other three seats. Congress and the National Conference, however, failed to clinch any victory. Currently, the NC rules the state with the support from the Congress. It may not be wrong to assume that J&K assembly elections may play a decisive role in pushing NC out of power. However, there is no guarantee that BJP’s success on 50 percent of seats from J&K would be repeated in assembly elections.
There is a major difference between elections to J&K’s six Lok Sabha seats and that of its assembly, which has 87 seats. In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP succeeded in winning only 32.4 percent of votes, a political reality that is likely to display itself more strongly in assembly elections. This is supported by first phase of polling to 15 assembly seats recording turnout of 70 percent voters. During Lok Sabha polls, the voters’ turnout from these areas was less than 36 percent.
Undeniably, ever since its success in Lok Sabha polls, political tide appears to have favored BJP fairly strongly in several assembly elections. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that BJP has tasted greater success in states where its key rival is the Congress. The results have not favored it totally in states where regional parties appear to play a strong role. This political reality manifested itself recently in results to Maharashtra assembly, where regional parties like Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) still enjoy considerable support. Thus, despite BJP having emerged as the leading party, winning 122 of 288 seats in Maharashtra assembly, it failed to win enough number of seats to be able to form the state government on its own steam.
BJP cannot afford to remain oblivious of the role that regional parties and their leaders can play in J&K assembly elections. In the outgoing state assembly, BJP has 11 members. NC (28), PDP (21), Congress (17), Panthers’ Party (3) while four are independent members and three are from three other parties. There is no denying that the phase during which 2008 J&K assembly elections were held was not affected by any Modi wave. BJP’s success on 11 seats in 2008 J&K assembly polls compared to its victory on only one seat in 2002 assembly elections was definitely a major success for this party. If BJP could increase its position in 2008 J&K assembly elections without any Modi wave and without being in power at the center, the party has all the reason to be confident that it can do the same during these polls, that too with a greater impact.
However, it may be recalled that though BJP performed extremely well in Lok Sabha elections, its success was primarily confined to the Hindi belt. J&K falls in that group of states, which are not in the Hindi-speaking belt. So far, political scenario in South Indian states has been given importance while studying their political culture from the angle of their not being a part of the Hindi belt. The same approach needs attention in J&K. In fact, considering the discriminatory approach that tends to be exercised toward Kashmiri Muslims from largely communally oriented, extremist parties with an anti-Muslim bias, this approach needs greater attention in J&K. Just as it is too early to expect a grand success for BJP in certain states outside the Hindi-speaking belt, the same may be said about its prospects in J&K. BJP may certainly succeed in winning more seats than 11. A lot depends on how many Kashmiris exercise their right to vote. In this context, role of certain Kashmiri leaders in issuing notices, calling on people to boycott elections cannot be ignored.