Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Has the BJP won J&K?

The first phase of the prolonged assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir ended today with a record 70% turnout, largely in areas on Kashmir and Ladakh. Much can be said about the large turnout in defiance of the usual separatist call for boycott - it was the voice of people speaking up against violence and separatism, it was the desperate hope of people for a better life in the war-torn state... or, it was the huge fear of a BJP-led government in India's only Muslim-majority state.

Either way, all Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to ensure is that the polls in the state through this all subsequent phases is free, fair and as free from violence as possible. If his party manages to govern the state, it would be a huge turnaround for the state, a victory as spectacular as the one in the May Lok Sabha elections, where the BJP won its first Parliamentary majority and the first such majority in 30 years. It is a difficult proposition of course (although so was Mission 272+), and much depends on Amit Shah's hope for a successful poll boycott in Kashmir, a phenomenon that saw the party emerge as the largest in the state in May.

But if today's phase is anything to go by, that is not going to happen. While the BJP seems set to sweep Jammu & Ladakh, Kashmir will probably go almost entirely to the PDP and what happens from there, a coalition government, a minority government or President's rule and fresh elections, is anybody's guess. But the large turnout will certainly be a compelling card for India's Kashmir diplomacy as Pakistan once again tried to take the issue International (with little success). The conduct of a free and fair election in the state, after Rajiv Gandhi's shamefully rigged elections there, will go a long way to assuage some anti-India sentiments and at least blunt criticism of a high-handed Indian state that aims to suppress voices.

It seems then that, as long as the poll is free and fair, the BJP has already won the elections. Either directly, as the largest party in government, or indirectly, as the Central Government that safeguarded the democratic process in the state. And either way, it is a body blow to the already-hurt separatists. 

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