By Arun Joshi
BJP has fixed a target of 50 plus for itself for the Assembly elections. In simple political terms, this is the political calculation of the saffron party that it will win an absolute majority out of the 90 seats of the new Assembly. This is not a challenge that it has posed to itself in the UT level polls but this claim has international dynamics, as the outcome of the polls will determine where Kashmir stands.
The party has chosen this challenge as a political move to boost its cadre, without taking into account that what this setting up of this ambitious goal would determine the future of J&K’s political and electoral map that would be read and interpreted by the international community more than within the country. Post abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, the whole of J&K and its political dimensions are under international community’s attention, especially in the west and the Islamic countries.
In the would-be held polls, the role of the Delimitation Commission, too, would be crucial. The Delimitation Commission, constituted in March 2020, has been tasked with to create seven additional constituencies for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The simple arithmetic is – the last assembly of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in which Ladakh, now a separate UT, was included, had 87 seats. Ladakh was represented by four MLAs in the House. Now, with Ladakh, having no seats, the number came down to 83. The Delimitation Commission has to add seven more seats to take the number to 90, and in that scenario, 50 pls seats represent absolute majority.
The BJP president of J&K unit, Ravinder Raina is pretty sure that the party would be able to cross this benchmark because of the work done by the Narendra Modi Government in the UT and the rest of the country. “ The doing away with the Article 370 has brought J&K has made ‘ one nation, one constitution,” concept, a reality,” Raina said.
That is what the BJP is hoping to cash. There, however, is a problem, because this time, as and when the Assembly elections, would be held, it is not going to be a local poll as such. . Jammu and Kashmir Assembly polls have always been very important; nationally, these were the high symbols of the Indian democracy and its acceptance by the people of the erstwhile state. These were seen as reflection of the faith of the people in India’s sovereignty and a rebuff to Pakistan and the secessionist groups sponsored by it. It was the thesis with which Delhi used to tell the international community, because the elections were seen as the final barometer of the Indian democracy and sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, despite the former state enjoying special relationship and privileges conferred on it by the now scrapped Article 370. The Special status granting constitutional provision was done away with on August 5, 2019.
Now, the Assembly elections would be under greater scrutiny of the international community, and it would also be a test for the nation that had wholeheartedly supported the abolition of Article 370, which not only did away with the distinct features of J&K- separate constitution, flag and most empowered legislature in the country that could make its laws and stall or facilitate the central laws made by the Parliament.
The international community would be keenly watching two things, as the things stand today- the participation of the people in the polls and its communal dimensions. Now there are no groups like All Parties Hurriyat Conference that can give call for poll boycott, but still it will have to be seen that how many of the electorate take part in the process. This will amount to accepting the post–Article 370 abrogation status of J&K, or negating it. This will also depend on the votes to be polled in favour of the parties seeking to reverse the special status or those favouring it.
BJP, therefore, will have a direct contest with the Kashmir-centric parties like PDP and National Conference, both of which have their support base and cadre in Kashmir Valley and the Muslim majority areas of Jammu region. That is on more than a two-third number of seats of the erstwhile state. Now, with the distribution of new seats by the Delimitation Commission will matter, bit not to the extent BJP hopes to. The Muslim population in Jammu and Kashmir is 72 percent and most of it is having other ideas about the BJP.
The bigger problem with BJP in the period ahead of the polls is that despite magnificent work done by the LG administration under the leadership of Manoj Sinha, who took over as head of the UT in August 2020, in infrastructural development and connecting with the people and investment in youth and entrepreneurship, the party has not been able to build a narrative on this. It is an administrative narrative that the things have changed a lot , to the benefit of the people, living across Jammu and Kashmir, but on the political scale, BJP has not been able to build it up, nor has it been able to counter the opposition’s sloganeering that nothing is happening on the ground.
National Conference and PDP are thriving on the narrative that nothing is happening and the majority is being harassed, and they want elections to determine the future status of Kashmir. The BJP believes that the issue is settled. This will be the basis of the contest, and as the saffron party has not been able to put content in the post-Article 370 slogans, that poses a bigger challenge and the 50 plus may seem to be much bigger challenge.
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, and The Tribune. He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with it.