Monday, December 29, 2014

Reading the Regional Lines

The 2014 elections in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only autonomous legislature functioning under its own constitution, threw up a hung assembly clearly split along regional lines, with the BJP taking a majority of seats in Jammu and the PDP sweeping Kashmir, with both the parties splitting Ladakh. No party has a majority even with independents and now the state will have to live under uncertainty.

A few important things are clear from this election: the strong turnout was clearly in Kashmir to prevent the BJP from repeating its strong showing in the May Lok Sabha elections, while in Jammu it was largely in favor of the BJP. However, the BJP itself has much to learn from the failed Mission 44+, which saw it attempting to use the media to win favor in Kashmir, which failed, and to dilute its core issues on Article 370 and appease Kashmiris, a move that failed not only in Kashmir but also led to loss of votes in Jammu. This clearly demonstrates that a soft approach that puts core issues on the back-burner will not work. The BJP should stick to its ideals, for doing otherwise only alienates existing votes but does not win new ones.

The PDP is actually the biggest disappointment, not having won as spectacularly as expected. While Mufti Sayeed still has a shot at being CM, it will be on precarious grounds. Teaming up with the NC is out of question, while doing so with the BJP would be political suicide for it. And yet, the Congress is known to be a bad partner and the party will put the PDP in a hard situation for its entire term. Moreover, knowing the PDP's strong stand on autonomy, the Congress too will face a hard time in Delhi if it forms a government with the PDP. There are no easy answers but the onus is on the PDP to find a way out. The Congess itself has come last in yet another election, highlighting how it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to Indian politics.

What is clear is that the regions of Jammu and Kashmir have some irreconcileable differences with each other. If Kashmir-based parties gang up to stop the BJP, it will be a sure sign that Jammu is and continues to be treated in a stepmotherly fashion by both Srinagar and New Delhi. While disturbing, that could create some new forces in the region calling for partition of the state. But that is left for the future. 

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