Will the Modi wave work in J&K?

The displacement caused by the natural disaster could affect turnout in the valley.  

If there is any party which can hope to make electoral gains from holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir at this moment, it is, undoubtedly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It seeks to ride on what it claims is a ‘Modi wave’ and is hoping to at least emerge as the single largest party in the State. Due to the breaking of the Congress-National Conference (NC) alliance, many constituencies are likely to witness a multi-cornered contest with the two national parties and the primary regional parties — People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and NC — in the fray.

> Read: Five-phase polls in J&K

Needless to say, the competition would become tight with the presence of many other minor players like the Panthers Party. No wonder the BJP has already announced its decision to contest the elections without any ally on all 87 Assembly seats. It is the only party which seems to be happy with the sudden announcement of dates for the Assembly elections, just a few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip.

Only a few months ago, Kashmir had suffered major devastation due to massive floods and questions were being raised if it would be appropriate to hold elections in such a situation. The displacement caused by the natural disaster could affect turnout in the valley and it could drop below the lowly figure of 31.2 per cent recorded in the region in the 2014 general elections.

Memories of the massive floods

The ruling party in the State, National Conference, had expressed its displeasure over the Election Commission (EC)’s decision to conduct elections in Kashmir as per schedule. With memories of the floods still fresh in the minds of the people, the BJP is likely to highlight the relief operations and aid provided by the Centre to woo voters. Alongside, Mr. Modi would continue to use the slogan used in Haryana and Maharashtra, which had called for the same party both at the State and in the Centre. The nature of the electoral contest is going to be very different in the three regions of the State.

The prospects of the BJP depend heavily on its performance in the Jammu region (where Hindus are present in large numbers), which accounts for 37 Assembly seats.

In the general elections, the party had led in 24 seats in the region and had polled almost half the votes (48.2 per cent) while its nearest rivals — the Congress and NC — together managed to lead in only 11 seats with a combined vote share of 34.4 per cent. The PDP’s performance here was below par with a vote share of less than 10 per cent. The BJP needs to sweep the region if it wants to emerge at least as a kingmaker.

In the valley region (mainly Srinagar), which comprises 46 Assembly segments, the contest is primarily among the NC, the PDP and the Congress. Here, the BJP is not even a marginal player as reflected in its performance in the general elections. The party had been able to gather slightly more than one per cent of the votes and did not lead in any Assembly segment.

Considering how weak the BJP is in the region, the PDP seems to be the likely beneficiary of the NC-INC split and State-level anti incumbency. The PDP had performed exceedingly well here in the general elections with a vote share of 46.3 per cent and had led in 39 segments.

Still, the BJP is hoping to spring surprises in some seats with support from migrant Kashmiri Pandits who are likely to vote for it in big numbers. As seats in the valley are decided by small margins, a low turnout of residents and enthusiastic postal votes from Kashmiri Pandits may swing some seats in BJP’s favour. Its ‘Mission 44’ would not be successful if it doesn’t manage to win at least some seats in the valley.

The smallest region of the State, Ladakh, has seen good performance by independent candidates in the past. The BJP managed to win the Lok Sabha constituency by a narrow margin of only 36 votes and led in only one out of the four Assembly segments. Recent incursions by the Chinese army in the region could be an important electoral issue.

Unlike Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, the BJP is definitely not a frontrunner to emerge victorious with a majority of its own in Kashmir. But one can safely predict that it would improve upon its 2008 tally of 11 seats and could become a kingmaker.

The BJP should hope that the National Conference doesn’t collapse completely and that there is a fragmentation of seats in the valley. This could allow the BJP to play a role in government formation in a State which was considered well beyond its reach till May 2014. The two regional parties seem to be playing safely considering the possibility of falling short of the halfway mark. One cannot rule out a post-poll alliance between the BJP and the largest regional party.

The Congress seems set to fall well below its earlier performances and in all likelihood it would finish fourth.

Multi-polar scenario expected

Overall, in the absence of pre-poll alliances and in the presence of multiple players, Kashmir, like Maharashtra, seems to be heading toward its first election with an Uttar Pradesh-like multi-polarity. In such a scenario, it would be difficult to say which party gets a majority, as seats would depend largely upon the concentration of votes. But even in such scenario, the BJP seems to be the front-runner and may emerge as the single-largest party, as its votes are likely to be concentrated in Jammu and Ladakh regions. The big question remains: will it come anywhere close to the majority mark?

( Sanjay Kumar is Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies; Pranav Gupta is researcher at Lokniti, a Research Program of CSDS.)

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 7:27:25 AM |

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