J&K assembly polls: Politics of region and religion

J&K assembly polls: Politics of region and religion

There prevails consensus that assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir after 1947 have not always been free and fair. While some elections were rigged, other results were negated by toppling legally elected governments. The wave of democracy in India hardly went beyond Jammu.

But, it seems, the current elections are offering a different experience because of two major factors. First, a new and conservative political party came to power in the country recently. After joining political inferno in J&K, it intends to provide a credible and democratic alternative in the state with the declared objective of Mission44 . Second, there has been radical change in the polity of J&K in recent decades and after devastating floods.

The National Conference, which led the freedom movement in J&K and introduced land reforms and free education in the state under the leadership of Sheikh Mohd Abdullah, lost the political ground considerably mainly due to corruption, nepotism, administrative inefficiency, political incompetence and non-accountability of the coalition government it ran with the Congress. While many say its leaders proved “looters”, the cadre felt deceived and demoralised. It seems that the leadership of NC has demolished house it built brick by brick.

Its rival People’s Democratic Party suffered less than NC in its political legitimacy. Its image as the credible alternative emerged first and declined afterwards. While the role of Mufti Mohd Sayeed as the then Union home minister in human rights violations in Kashmir was highlighted repeatedly by the NC, the induction of all types of politicians and bureaucrats in PDP has damaged its clean image.

The local Congress party too had to face severe criticism for inefficient administration and misgovernance of the coalition government. Some of its ministers were caught in moral turpitude and financial corruption cases, but Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could not touch them. Omar turned out to be the weakest CM of the state.

All these political parties were also criticised for their irresponsible and apathetic role during recent floods. In reality, the leaders of all parties left people to be devastated by ravaging floods and ran away from their respective locations. Finally, the decision to hold elections in November-December in the flood-ravaged state was a shock to the people. The entire work of relief and rehabilitation has been left completely at a time when thousands of flood victims live in tented accommodation in sub-zero temperature.

In the preceding political background, the BJP made its entry in J&K politics with its Mission44 . In fact, it invaded with clear ideological and political objectives.

Ideologically, it strictly follows RSS whose prominent ideology vis-a-vis Kashmir include [i] complete integration of Kashmir in India with no scope for sub-national, religious and cultural identities; [ii] total Indianisation/Hinduisation of non-Hindus in the state; and, [iii] demographic transformation in J&K to change the majority character of population.

Simultaneously, the BJP took the political initiative with the statement about abrogation of Article 370 from the constitution. But, after seeing strong reaction of all regional and some national political parties, the party changed its stand and is silence on this crucial issue. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t mention it during his speeches campaign in the state. In this way, the BJP proved shrewd and pragmatic.

BJP and Hindu vote

The assembly elections in the state are directly related to the politics of region and religion. Though all parties uphold unity and integrity of the state, they play regional and religious politics, particularly at the time of elections. They make relevant regional strategies to attract more and more votes. The ideal example in this regard can be BJP’s strategy to attract Kashmiri pandit and refugees votes in Jammu.

In the broader context, the party intends to consolidate the Hindu vote in Jammu on the slogans of Hindutva and discrimination. The party has also targeted some peripheral and minority groups in Kashmir such as Gujjars, pahadis, Sikhs and Shias. On the other hand, NC is a Kashmir-based party which upholds the traditional agenda of Kashmir resolution, restoration of political autonomy, distinctive regional identity and equal treatment to all regions.

The PDP upholds the political agenda of good governance, plural character of the state, balanced development of all three regions, and Kashmir resolution. Finally, the Congress has adopted secular approach and denounces communalism of BJP. It maintains that equitable development of all regions can only be ensured by secular political party. However, both the NC and the Congress accuse each other for following regionalism and particularistic approach in their coalition rule.

This strategy of dealing with region and religion on the part of all political parties had its own limitations. The BJP wants to boost the electorate in Jammu region, but there is about 30 per cent Muslim population which will hardly vote en block for this party. Similarly, the Congress is working for the Hindu votes in Jammu but at the cost of Muslim votes in Kashmir. It may be noted here that secular parties in Kashmir are sharply divided and Muslim votes will get divided among the NC, the PDP and the Congress.

The elections in J&K have posed a serious ideological and political challenge to the local intelligentsia. It reflects crudely in the unanimous stand of all political parties on abrogation of Article 370. Whichever party/parties win elections, it feels that there will be difficult days ahead. This may lead to increase in the degree of alienation of the local people and may also lead to some revolts. Since the BJP stands as the dominant political force and will remain so in near future in the country, the politics of region and religion will remain alive even after assembly elections.

(The writer is a sociologist and teaches at the Kashmir University, Srinagar)

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