The outcome of Lok Sabha polls in J&K was split between the BJP and the NC, setting stage for a tough contest between them in the Assembly election which is likely to be held later this year. The scenario thus appears a repeat of the run up to 2014 polls which too had split J&K between two parties – that time it was the BJP and the PDP. The two parties went on to rule J&K in a coalition for close to three and a half years when the BJP suddenly withdrew support to the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and the government fell.
The history looks set to repeat itself. The NC and the BJP are two major players on the scene. But while the NC’s bid is backed by its growing support base in Kashmir Valley and in parts of Jammu, the BJP is banking on a consolidation of Hindu vote plus a play of some incidental political factors to its favour – one of them being the division of Muslim vote bank along sectarian and ethnic lines, like Shia and Sunni and Gujjar, Pahari and Kashmiri respectively.
The PDP and Congress have made their own calculations but they currently enjoy little public confidence. More so, in case of the PDP whose Lok Sabha campaign was weighed down by a strong anti-incumbency sentiment bordering on a mass rejection of the party. Former Chief Minister and the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti was reduced to a third position in the outcome of the election to the Anantnag parliamentary constituency.
One important aspect of the Lok Sabha election in J&K is the widespread boycott of the exercise in Kashmir Valley. The election to three parliament constituencies in the Valley witnessed low to moderate polling. The election to the troubled Anantnag constituency which was spread over three phases recorded an overall turnout of a meagre 8.76 per cent. In Srinagar constituency, it was a little higher at around 15 percent and in North Kashmir’s Baramulla constituency the turnout was reasonably better at 35 percent. Cumulatively, the turnout in the entire Valley is around 17 percent. And this effectively meant that more than 83 percent of people stayed away from the electoral process.
Political pundits in the Valley blame the boycott for distorting the election outcome in the Valley. And they are right. In the recent Panchayat elections, the BJP won a number of wards in South Kashmir, the Valley’s separatist hub.
This doesn’t augur well for the Valley-focussed mainstream parties. Just in case the boycott turned out to be as sweeping as it did in Panchayat and Parliament polls, the BJP could even open its score in the Valley in Assembly polls. In that case, the BJP could even turn out to be a majority partner in the likely new coalition government in the state. And this is something that the political players in J&K will need to mull over and incorporate in their respective strategies for the Assembly polls.