Will J&K outcome see a new coalition?

Srinagar-New Delhi, India-Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim are basically one complex of issues. That there is a symbiotic relationship between the three becomes apparent every now and then. But there is, at policy levels, an aversion to see the glaring reality.

Foreign Secretary-level talks in Islamabad were cancelled because the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi, Abdul Basit, consulted Kashmiri separatist leaders.

The chill was carried over to Kathmandu. Here was the umpteenth instance of Kashmir casting a long shadow on Indo-Pak relations.

Is SAARC a realisable promise without this key triangle being resolved? At the 1972 Simla Summit, Indira Gandhi returned 93,000 prisoners of war to Pakistan in expectation of some imaginary goodwill.

The Shimla spirit did not prove to be a panacea for Indo-Pak mistrust and bitterness. Did Shimla prove ineffective in the long run because a Kashmiri voice was not present at the Summit? By the same logic, the Indira-Sheikh Abdullah pact of 1975 failed because Pakistan hovered like Banquo’s ghost but never had a seat at the table.

Who knows, change may be round the corner because the Modi government appears to be bringing into play a different kind of energy. Sooner or later,  BJP President Amit Shah’s electoral strategy of communal polarisation as a means to Hindu consolidation must run into contradictions – most certainly in Kashmir.

Already, a lesson appears to have been learnt. In the state, the BJP is in something of a shock. A 71 per cent voter turnout in subzero temperatures in the two phases of assembly polls on November 25 and December 2 is most extraordinary.

The BJP strategy to polarise the vote, then scatter the opposition, appears to have been grasped by the electorate: heavy polling is evidence of a sort of counter polarisation. It appears “dummy candidates”, set up to divide the vote, have been bypassed by the electorate. How else is one to interpret the highest ever voter turnout in defiance of the hardliner’s call to boycott elections?

BJP effort at communal
polarisation may have been taken to its extreme at, say, Zanskar in Ladakh. There has been a near total social boycott here of Muslims by the local Buddhists.

There has always been considerable scope to play one Muslim group against another. Indeed, even the Shias of Kargil have been divided. For instance, Anjuman e Islamia and the Imam Khomeini Trust have been in perpetual competition. But the scare that the Modi phenomenon has created, may well be affecting an unintended Muslim consolidation simply to block the Modi machine.

Another emotion driving these elections is a general disgust with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. It is tempting to see a similarity between the Gandhis nationally and the Abdullahs in the valley. Yes, they are both in abysmal decline and the Gandhis and the Abdullahs have little credibility left as leaders in the foreseeable future. But this is where the comparison ends. Minus the Abdullahs, the National Conference has a fairly impressive line up of leaders. For example General Secretary of the National Conference, Shaikh Nazir, has considerable credibility. This precisely is the weakness in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Peoples Democratic Party. It is short on credible candidates.

Mission44+
The BJP is going flat out to accomplish its “Mission 44+”, which would give it a majority in a House of 87. Towards that end it has inducted RSS volunteers, primarily from UP. These “voter guides” have unintentionally spurred the non BJP voters to compose their differences primarily in favour of the PDP.

Communal rhetoric has been held back in the campaign so far. Even though RSS think tanks have been studying Article 370 and how the state can be freed from it, the issue has not become part of the BJP’s campaign. Is the powder being kept dry for
the last phase of voting in Jammu where the Muslim vote is ineffective?

If the BJP falls short of 44 seats, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will be the probable front runner. But the PDP may not be able to cross the halfway mark. Who will the Mufti then align with? A weakened Congress, unlikely to be anywhere near power in the foreseeable future, is hardly an attractive partner. Omar Abdullah’s National Conference is even less attractive.

A political opening for both the Mufti and Modi may open up. The critical triangle sketched at the opening of this piece may then require a deep, steady gaze by both.

Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi? Who will win the battle royale of the Lok Sabha Elections 2019


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