No clear favourite to win J&K polls

Battle for states: Emergence of BJP complicates political equation

No clear favourite to win J&K polls

As Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) heads towards the last phase of Assembly elections, all political parties are locked in an intense battle with none emerging favourite to form the next government.

With voters showing lot of enthusiasm despite militant attacks and boycott calls, this election can easily be termed as a watershed moment in the state’s political history.

The first four phases recorded a turnout of 72 per cent, 71 per cent, 58 per cent and 49 per cent respectively. Not only was this an improvement over the last Assembly elections, it was also substantially more than 25 per cent the state averaged in the Lok Sabha election that concluded in May.

The emergence of the BJP in the state post Lok Sabha polls has complicated the already complex political equation in the state. After 2002 and 2008 Assembly elections, it was the Congress who were the kingmakers.

But this time, the equation may slightly change with the emergence of the BJP especially in Jammu region where it won both the Parliament seats earlier this year. The BJP, which started to work on its ambitious “Mission 44 +” agenda immediately after the success in the general election, is bidding for what at one time was unthinkable in J&K–a saffron party led government in the only Muslim majority state in the country.

The party expects to achieve its target by sweeping all 37 seats in Jammu and four seats in Ladakh, besides a windfall of a few seats in the Valley.

However, opinion polls in the first four phases suggest that the saffron party may fall short of 44 seats, the minimum needed to form the government in the 87-member Assembly.

Political analysts believe that the party may fail to open its account in Kashmir Valley, while it may win 18-20 seats in Jammu region and one to two seats in Ladakh region. The party had won 11 seats in the 2008 Assembly elections.

On the other hand, the Congress, which has been a coalition partner in the last two governments in the state before the commencement of polls, was expected to be decimated from the political scene. The analysts had a reason to say so as the party which fought Parliament elections in coalition with National Conference was routed by BJP in all three segments where it had fielded its candidates.

But the latest trends show that the Congress, which had 17 members in the outgoing Assembly, may finish somewhere between 10-12 seats in the present elections. The party, according to opinion polls, has been able to maintain its grip on the Muslim majority Chenab Valley in Jammu region and may surprise few strong candidates in the Kashmir Valley. It is also expected to win some seats in the Ladakh region. The main battle remains between Kashmir-centric regional parties, the National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Kashmir’s well-known journalist and political analyst Zahir-ud-Din believes that anti-incumbency wave may benefit the PDP but the contest will not be one sided.

“People generally are disillusioned with the NC and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Their biggest grouse against the third generation of the Abdullah family is that he was never there when the state needed him,” he told Deccan Herald.

But at the same time, Zahir said: “The PDP is not going to sweep Kashmir Valley. My assessment is that PDP may improve its present tally of 21 seats. But it won’t go beyond 30. They may gain in Srinagar and some areas in north Kashmir, but at the same time anti-incumbency may drown its few MLAs in south Kashmir where the party has its base.”

He believes the NC may win somewhere between 15-18 seats mostly in the Kashmir Valley. The NC had 28 members in the outgoing Assembly. “The PDP is gaining because of NC’s failure to capitalise on the opportunity it was given in the 2008 Assembly election,” Zahir added.

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