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Elections in Kashmir bring in the petrichor of change

Elections in Kashmir bring in the petrichor of change

The Lok Sabha polls will be a barometer of how people of J&K view the BJP’s decision to revoke Article 370.

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Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 05:59 IST
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 05:59 IST
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Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing its first parliamentary election since it lost the special constitutional position in the form of Article 370 and statehood in 2019. On April 19, people in Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency cast their vote to choose their Member of Parliament.

In the first phase (April 19), the main contest was between Union minister Jitendra Singh and Lal Singh, who recently joined the Congress. Jitendra Singh seems to have the upper hand because of the likely split in anti-BJP votes between Lal Singh and Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) Ghulam Muhammad Saroori. Lal Singh’s image in Muslim pockets, after he sided with the perpetrators of the gangrape and murder of an 8-year-old nomadic Gujjar girl in Kathua in 2018, is also expected to help the BJP. 

New constituency, unknown challenges

Besides losing special status and statehood, J&K’s constituencies were redrawn by the delimitation commission. For example, after the controversial delimitation exercise in 2022, the south Kashmir constituency was remodelled and is now known as the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency.

The Rajouri, Poonch districts in the Jammu province and Anantnag in the Kashmir Valley are separated by a mountain range while people speak different languages and belong to different ethnicities. The Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, which now spreads across the Pir Panjal range, has been a stronghold of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and will be one of the hotly contested seats among the five in the union territory.

While the south Kashmir districts are dominated by Kashmiri Muslims, Poonch and Rajouri districts are largely populated by the Gujjar and Pahari communities.

Though the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has reached out to the tribal populations by reserving seats in the assembly for Scheduled Tribes for the first time in J&K’s history and it has fulfilled the long-pending demand for tribal status for the Paharis, the saffron party has decided not to field a candidate from Anantnag-Rajouri. The BJP has fielded candidates from two seats of Jammu and one seat of Ladakh, but none from the three seats in the Valley. 

Former Chief Minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti is contesting from Anantnag-Rajouri, against National Conference (NC)’s  Mian Altaf, a Gujjar religious leader. 

Collapse of Gupkar Alliance

Both the PDP and the NC which were fighting together to restore Article 370 have fallen out over seat-sharing and decided to contest separately. Candidates of the two regional powerhouses are also locking horns in all three seats in the Valley. The collapse of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (Gupkar Alliance) is likely to help the BJP and smaller regional parties considered close to the saffron party — like the Peoples Conference led by Sajad Lone, and the Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari.

Split in anti-BJP votes

In this context, BJP National General Secretary Tarun Chugh’s meeting with Sajad Lone and Altaf Bukhari on April 6 assumes significance. Lone, contesting from the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat has received a shot in the arm after receiving support from Bukhari’s Apni Party. Lone being the tough competitor has forced NC’s vice-president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to sacrifice the Srinagar seat and decide to fight the elections from Baramulla.

As in Udhampur, in Baramulla and Anantnag-Rajouri one can expect to see the anti-BJP votes being split.

Regional battle

The Lok Sabha polls will also be a barometer of how people of J&K view the BJP’s decision to revoke Article 370. This time heavy polling is expected even in poll boycott areas to keep BJP at bay. 

In the past five years, political equations within and between parties have changed, with the BJP and political parties believed to be close to it promising development and restoration of statehood. The Apni Party and the DPAP are emphasising on development and restoration of statehood to woo voters in J&K. 

The NC and the PDP, however, are seeking votes to keep the BJP and its ‘policies’ at bay. For example, Mufti while on a campaign trail in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara asked people “to vote for her to safeguard the dignity, identity, and J&K’s resources which are under threat”. 

Though the BJP is not contesting from every seat, its presence is evident throughout the union territory. For the regional parties, this election is a test to see if the people still repose faith in them. After years without elections, it is difficult to get the pulse of the voter — and that makes it a hard one to gauge.

(Irfan Amin Malik is a J&K-based journalist. X: @irfanaminmalik)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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