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Why did the BJP not contest in the Valley?

Why did the BJP not contest in the Valley?

As Kashmir and Ladakh are only four out of 543 Lok Sabha seats, it does not matter statistically in government formation. The government may still win nationally, but what about lessons from history?

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Last Updated : 31 May 2024, 23:25 IST
Last Updated : 31 May 2024, 23:25 IST
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In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured an unprecedented 46.4% of the popular votes in Jammu and Kashmir, which was then still a full-fledged state. While it won all three seats in the Jammu Plains region as expected, it also triumphed in Ladakh with Jamyang Namgyal as its candidate.

On August 5, 2019, the government revoked the special status under Article 370 and proposed a separate Union Territory of Ladakh. The highlands of Ladakh and the plains of Jammu were jubilant, while the Kashmir Valley was not. Later, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the government’s decision to abrogate the provisions and more recently rejected pleas to review its earlier order, stating there was technically “no error apparent on the face of the record.” Despite this, two starkly distinct moods prevailed, even as the Home Minister insisted, “The entire region now echoes with melodious music and cultural tourism.” The Supreme Court, however, urged the government to restore full statehood, emphasising that “restoration of democracy is important.”

Earlier this year, the prime minister reassured the Kashmir Valley during his first visit after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, stating, “I am working hard to win your hearts, and my attempt to keep winning your hearts will continue.” Tellingly, he invoked his partyman and former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s moving principles of Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat, and Jamhooriyat (Kashmiri essence, humanity, and democracy). Despite the earlier polarising and aggressive rhetoric, this inclusive outreach from the highest executive was significant. History is instructive, showing that it was only such things as political magnanimity, accommodation, and large-hearted moves that won the day for India in insurgency-infested states like Mizoram or Punjab earlier. The inherent wisdom and maturity that beset an age-old civilisation such as India have ended many societal strifes and secessionist movements within, unlike the more militaristic, hardline, and exclusivist stance of Israel, which has seen continuing failure with its handling of security affairs.

While the Indian Armed Forces continued to valiantly thwart the challenges from across the Line of Control by often paying “the ultimate price” and even standing tall to the new number-one enemy in China, there was also something missing in the governance admixture for Kashmir this time. It is true that infrastructural investments were made in J&K, but the people continued to feel alienated. Referencing Kashmir or Article 370 in the ‘rest of India’ always suggested an innuendo-like reference to having “sorted a place”, as opposed to having taken a valid constitutional decision, which it was. Kashmir was postured as a muscular achievement as opposed to a necessary correction, and the emotions of those in the Valley didn’t seem to matter. It was unlike the historical roadmap of winning with the ‘Idea of India’.

There had been ‘Accords’ in both Punjab and Mizoram that had brought forces to power who were earlier unsure of the ‘Idea of India’—but patience, sincerity, and the dignity to allow the diminished to take centre stage had thawed the situation and won them back within the generous contours of the Indian Constitution. There was no political or partisan spirit that reflected any desperate ‘win at any cost’, and in the elections that were held in Mizoram and Punjab after those ‘Accords’, the ruling political party in the country was defeated. But more importantly, the country and its democratic traditions had triumphed. Now, Kashmir awaited a similar inclusion of all partisan persuasions as fair participants (irrespective of the outcome), as winning is always less important than participation, especially in wounded times. More so, because the narrative in the ‘rest of the country’ suggested that locals in the Kashmir Valley had emotionally healed and were now part of the national dream.

Cut to April 2024, a few months before the 18th Lok Sabha elections: the ruling party that had galvanised so many emotions regarding the Kashmir Valley throughout the country decided to ‘not contest’ in the three seats in the Valley! Possibly these are the only non-competed seats in the country (by itself or by its NDA partners). Clearly, the confidence of “abki baar, 400 paar” (this time, over 400) did not extend to the most bandied region in the national discourse since 2019. Powerfully asserted claims of having freed the Valley from corrupt and “dynastic” families or the “clutches of Article 370” appear to be aimed at the ‘rest of India’ and not the Valley, after all.

This deliberate avoidance of contest acknowledges ground realities and sentiments different from those postured outside. It is understandable that the party lacks the cadre base to posit its development narrative, but for it to stay away from the rejuvenation of democratic processes in the Kashmir Valley shows its proclivity to avoid being seen as defeated at any cost. Seemingly, the optics of never having lost were more important than getting viewed as one that did partake in the responsibility to engage, put its case fair and square, and yet run the risk of not having earned the citizenry’s trust (as yet), as was the case for the central ruling parties in Punjab and Mizoram decades ago.

Also, despite bestowing the much-aspired status of Union Territory and having afforded what it calls the ‘double-engine’ thrust in Ladakh, it changed its sitting Member of Parliament candidate this time. After all, he had been a much-publicly valourised 39-year-old MP. The fact is that he too was facing local discontent, and the recent dissonance in the Ladakh region led to his being grudgingly dropped and a new face given the ticket. Activist Sonam Wangchuk’s accusation of “betrayal” and unkept promises about Delhi had gained traction, whatever the simplistic and contrary storyline that was weaved outside. However, as Kashmir and Ladakh are only four out of 543 Lok Sabha seats, it does not matter statistically in government formation. The government may still win nationally, but what about lessons from history?

(The writer is former lieutenant governor of Puducherry and Andaman & Nicobar Islands)

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