Next Year’s General Polls Cast Their Shadow

As the elections draw nearer in India, the political situation in the country is taking a problematic turn. Recently, the union government arrested five well-known activists over their alleged Maoist links. It was only after a group of scholars challenged the arrests in the Supreme Court, which ordered the detainees to be kept under house arrest rather than in police custody until the next hearing on September 6 that they were taken back to their homes. The arbitrary nature of the arrests has triggered a contentious political debate in the country with the development being seen as an attack on the right to dissent. If anything the arrests have come as one more indication that the situation may change unpredictably as the country goes further into election mode.  The recent India Today-Karvy Insights Mood of the Nation polls has shown the BJP falling short of the majority. The reason for this could be the non-performance of the BJP-led government on several development indices. And the party may thus try to fall back on its core ideological issues to drum up the support. And Hindutva is at the root of it.   

In the weeks and months ahead, the political noise is only going to get shriller and nasty. Considering the nature of the discourse that has held the sway over the last four years, we are unlikely to see a mature political contestation informed by constructive ideas, policies and agendas of the different parties. On the contrary, the discourse could once again degenerate into a vicious and polarizing rhetoric geared to play to the basest instincts of the people. The ruling BJP has made it clear that it will leave no political trick untried to get back to power. Unlike 2014, when the Prime minister Narendra Modi kept the campaign firmly focussed on a development agenda modelled on Gujarat model, this time the party seems determined to put its ideology upfront. And there’s a reason for it. If the BJP’s electoral performance over the past four years is anything to go by, the party has grown from strength to strength on the back of its ideological agenda. Some reverses aside, the  party now rules two-third of the states – and up until recently even the Muslim majority J&K.  

The campaign for 2019 could thus acquire strident Hindutva overtones. And Kashmir could very well become the epicenter of the BJP’s bid for power.  Already, the legal contest over Article 35A has become a subject of a polarizing debate within the country with a large swathe of public opinion baying for its repeal. In this situation it hardly matters what Kashmiris themselves think about the all important constitution provision that insures the state against any attempt at demographic change.  Here is hoping that Kashmir doesn’t become a grist for the country’s electoral grill and the steps are instead taken to address the long festering political problem in the state.

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