August 17, 2014

MAIDAN-e-JUNG - Part I

THE RACE TO BECOME THE SINGLE LARGEST PARTY


Addressing a crowd of party leaders and workers gathered for a function where he was officially anointed as the party president, Amit Shah spoke of yet another ambitious plan - Mission 44. The man who spear headed the BJP's campaign in Uttar Pradesh and was one of the foremost architects of Narendra Modi's big win in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls now wants his party men to work for the formation of the next government in Jammu Kashmir which will see elections later this year. Considering that the saffron outfit has just 11 seats in the outgoing state assembly, it is easy to write off Shah's project as some kind of 'pep' talk to boost the morale of party cadre. However, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sweeping the two parliamentary seats in Jammu and narrowly edging out the Congress in Ladakh, there are speculations that the saffronists may end up as the single largest party in the next assembly in spite of the fact that the numbers may not be sufficient to form the government. With the Modi wave still pretty strong, the BJP will also bank upon the development plank, the shortcomings of the Omar government and even the goodwill for former PM Vajpayee amongst the Kashmiris to get the votes.

Although there was a lot of debate centered around Article 320 prior to the big polls with many in the party advocating its removal, it will serve the BJP best if the party avoids talking about it considering the sentiments of the people in the state, especially in Kashmir. Besides, it is hopeful that the consolidation of the Hindus votes may further help it in south and east. While there is high probability that the saffron outfit may finish with the highest number of MLAs, it will be interesting to see how many seats it will get and if it can make its debut in the Valley. If the BJP can go past the 40 mark, it will need support of smaller parties and independents to form the government. However, if the saffron outfit gets about 30 to 35 seats then it will have to contemplate joining hands with the Muftis to come to power. Anything below 25 will most likely mean that the BJP would end up as the main opposition in the J&K assembly.

While Shah and his party may be on the threshold of creating history, Kashmir's first political family - the Abdullahs of the National Conference (NC) are yet to recover from the debacle of the 2014 General Elections. Fighting the polls in association with the Congress, the NC drew a blank as all three of its candidates including heavyweights - Farooq Abdullah and Mehboob Beg had to bite the dust. There were lots of expectations from young Omar Abdullah when he took oath as the 11th Chief Minister of the northern state way back in 2008. Six years down the line, the allegations of graft and lack of development in J&K have made the incumbent CM and his outfit extremely unpopular. In what was clearly seen as a move to put the blame of the Lok Sabha disaster on its former ally, the NC has pulled out of the UPA. Besides, there are reports that all is not well within the outfit and there is a growing section within the party which feels disillusioned by the Abdullahs. For the time being, it seems that the National Conference is heading towards its biggest electoral defeat in recent times; the party will be lucky if it can even win 10 seats.

Much like its former ally, the Congress too is facing the heat here. Former state CM Ghulam Nabi Azad lost to BJP's candidate Dr. Jitendra Singh by a margin of nearly sixty thousand votes in the Udhampur parliamentary seat. In neighboring Jammu, saffron camp's Jugal Kishore Sharma registered a massive win, beating his rival from the INC by over two and a half lakh votes. The grand old party did put up a tough fight in Ladakh; its candidate Tsering Samphel lost by a margin of just 36 votes. The bottom line was clear. Like in the rest of the country, the INC had lost the confidence of the people in Jammu Kashmir too. The problems have only compounded following the divorce with the NC. Although the party will find it very difficult to even come close to its earlier figure of 17 that it got in the last state polls, its 'secular' credentials make it acceptable to both the main regional players in the country. As such, if either the NC or the PDP need some seats to cross the half way mark, the first option that they will explore is an alliance with the INC.

If there is one party that can actually give a tough fight to the BJP in the race to become the single largest party in the state assembly, it has to be the People's Democratic Party (PDP) led by former CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Like the BJP in the rest of the state, the PDP won all three seats in the Kashmir region, beating the threat posed by the NC-INC combine. Now with the two former allies in the UPA parting ways, the chances of Sayeed's outfit has improved further. At the same time, we must remember that with limited presence in the state, winning a majority on its own will be quite an ask for the PDP in spite of the pathetic condition that its main adversaries in the Valley, namely the NC and the Congress find themselves in. The question though is that if need be, will the Muftis be open to an alliance with the BJP - a party which is still seen by many in the Valley as communal and harmful to the interest of Kashmiris. Allying with the Congress will be much easier, that is of course if the INC can get the required numbers. In that scenario, one needs to see if the Congress will be ready to forget Mufti's betrayal of Azad's government way back in 2008.