Why the maths is not working out for the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir

The longer it delays the election, the more space the BJP is likely to cede to its rivals in the PAGD.

Published : Apr 20, 2023 11:00 IST - 10 MINS READ

A view of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, where authorities disallowed Friday congregational prayers on April 14.

A view of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, where authorities disallowed Friday congregational prayers on April 14. | Photo Credit: Imran Nissar/ANI

Trudging down a long alley at Sonwar in Srinagar are a few elderly men, whose dour faces are out of sync with the peaceful and pretty surroundings dotted by quaint guest houses and eateries framed with chinar trees, with a pleasant breeze blowing across the azure waters of the Dal Lake. They do not seem to be part of Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha’s many “successes” promoted on government hoardings.

“I have no idea who are benefiting in the L-G regime, my family is not,” Asadullah Ganaie, a local resident, said with a frown. He was joined by Nazir Ahmad, who complained that the L-G’s advertisements are merely decorative at a time when prices are skyrocketing and small businesses like his find it hard to stay afloat.

Complete takeover

But these are not their biggest worry. New Delhi’s “swift and complete takeover of Kashmir” has benumbed them, and they fret about their identity in a predominantly Hindu country where the plight of its minorities is hardly recognised. “The BJP-RSS wants to time-transport Kashmir to its Hindu past” is the common refrain, as the attempt at cultural dominance seeks to erode everything that is emblematic of Islam.

After the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Act was implemented in Jammu and Kashmir in September 2020, digitisation of data is being done in the Devanagari script rather than the Nastaliq script. Maharaja Hari Singh’s birthday (September 23) has been declared a State holiday. The commemoration of Martyrs’ Day on July 13 has been discontinued. It was on that day in 1931 that 22 Kashmiri protesters were gunned down by the Maharaja’s army. A recent demolition drive, said many Kashmiris, came as an “anti-Muslim purge”.

Also Read | Bulldozer raj: Now in Jammu and Kashmir

It is in this stifling environment that people like Ahmad and Ganaie are clamouring for an elected government. “The mood is to vote, and vote decisively for the PAGD,” Ganaie declared. (The PAGD or People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration is a political alliance of several political parties campaigning for autonomy for the region.)

Roughly 40 kilometres away in Tangmarg, nestled in the rolling foothills of Gulmarg, Mohammad Younus, a carpenter, voices a similar sentiment. “I walked non-stop for two days to join Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra when it reached Kashmir,” he recalled.

He and thousands of others, who at one time faithfully heeded the Hurriyat’s call for election boycott, and who had rejoiced at the incarceration of mainstream politicians in August 2019 when the State’s special status was revoked, are today determined to back the same politicians.

Antipathy towards BJP

It is not because they endorse the politics of the National Conference or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but because they are at a crucial juncture in Kashmir’s history when they are okay with, as Younus puts it, “anything but an elected BJP government, helped by its Teams A, B and C”.

The reference is to Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference and Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, long suspected to be the BJP’s vassals, with the newest addition being Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Azad Party (DAP). Although Azad has ruled out any pre-election alliance, observers said this would advance the BJP’s game plan of splitting the Muslim vote in the Pir Panjal and the Chenab valley and scupper the PAGD’s chances.

Jammu and Kashmir has had no elected government since June 2018, when the BJP pulled the plug from the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government. The last Assembly election was held in November-December 2014. It threw up a fractured mandate, and the PDP, the single largest party with 28 seats, stunned the people by deciding to join hands with the BJP, which had won 25 of 37 seats in Jammu.

After the erstwhile State was formally reconstituted into the two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in October 2019, the Election Commission found one excuse or the other to delay holding the election.

The Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the L-G administration utilised this time to gain an advantage. The manoeuvres included extending voting rights to West Pakistani refugees in Assembly elections (they could hitherto vote only in Lok Sabha elections), and promising ST status for the Pahadis, a community the BJP is desperately trying to woo along with Gujjars and Bakherwals.

Of the seven new Assembly constituencies carved out by the Delimitation Commission, six went to Jammu, without regard to the population ratio.

  • Jammu and Kashmir has had no elected government since June 2018.
  • It appears that New Delhi is not eager to hold an election this year.
  • But the need for showcasing a sheen of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir is being felt in the PMO.

No sign of election

Yet, there is no indication that the Assembly election will be held anytime soon. Frontline has learnt that the question is “undecided” and that New Delhi is not eager to hold an election this year.

According to an informed source in North Block, the matter was discussed at a meeting in the second week of April but there was no agreement on a timeline. The source said: “Very few favoured a June-July schedule as that would clash with the Amarnath yatra. A September schedule is improbable as the government would not want anything that would distract from the G20 summit in New Delhi.”

In Jammu, the sense one gets is that the BJP’s regional satraps also doubt that the election would be held this year. Previous elections were held in the November-December period, but that is unlikely this time as it would be too close to the general election due in April-May 2024.

The BJP might not be keen on that gamble as Kashmir is key to its strategy of hijacking patriotism and whipping up politics of division and hate, which would help it tide over deepening public dismay amid worsening economic hardships.

Also, for far too long it has dangled before its core voters the idea of a Hindu Chief Minister in Jammu and Kashmir; a poor showing just ahead of 2024 would disrupt its playbook.

During a demolition drive in Poonch on February 1.

During a demolition drive in Poonch on February 1. | Photo Credit: Rahi Kapoor/ANI

When the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the polling dates for Karnataka, it struggled to come up with a credible explanation for not holding the election in Jammu and Kashmir.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar said: “We are aware that there is a vacuum that needs to be filled.” Speaking to Frontline, Imran Dar, the NC spokesperson, wondered what could possibly be dissuading the ECI from announcing elections since “the weather is perfect and the government is patting itself on the back for the improved security, citing a record number of tourists arriving in the Kashmir valley”.

He added: “Perhaps the ECI wants to give more time to the BJP as the ground beneath its feet is shaking in Jammu too.” Most election-related processes, including rationalisation of polling stations according to the delimitation exercise and summary revision of the rolls, had been completed by November-December 2022. The ECI’s evasiveness was on display when NC president Farooq Abdullah submitted a 13-party memorandum to it in March to press for the Assembly election. Speaking to mediapersons later, Abdullah said: “He [CEC] said ‘soon’, which means this year itself.”

As the BJP is strengthening its commitment to Hindu nationalism, the Jammu & Kashmir government’s apparatus is steadily shifting to Jammu amid murmurs that New Delhi may decide to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir again and carve out a separate Kashmir without a legislature.

However, there is nothing to suggest that New Delhi is contemplating any such experiment. If anything, the need for showcasing a sheen of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir is being increasingly felt in the Prime Minister’s office. The North Block source said: “There is some pressure. A permanently suspended J&K Assembly does no good for India’s optics abroad.”

But the arithmetic is not quite working out for the BJP, and the party knows it. Apparently, a few feedback-gathering exercises it had done in recent months did not indicate a sweep in Jammu.

The PAGD, despite off-and-on bickering among its constituents, sees itself in a position of advantage. And this worries the BJP, according to M.Y. Tarigami, four-time Kulgam legislator and PAGD spokesperson.

He said: “Despite repeated claims of normalcy, those at the helm do not feel sure about the outcome of a long overdue electoral process. Relying exclusively on repressive measures will widen the support for extremism.” In general interactions with the public in Srinagar, Shopian, Baramulla, and Ganderbal, the sense one gets is that the NC is expected to do very well across the Kashmir valley given the sentiment that “it is Omar’s [Omar Abdullah] turn”.

“The PAGD, despite off-and-on bickering among its constituents, sees itself in a position of advantage.”

Not unexpectedly, the NC’s top leaders are not inclined towards any seat-sharing with the PDP, which they take credit for resuscitating while speaking in private. But Farooq Abdullah is known to favour a common banner at the hustings. It is unlikely he will be defied.

There may not be a formal seat-sharing, but the NC, the PDP, and the Congress are expected to avoid clashing in crucial seats to corner candidates of the People’s Conference , the Apni Party and the DAP.

Public frustration

Zubair Bhat, a Kashmir University student, feels that a “local government is imperative in the face of a massive crackdown”. His friend, who did not wish to be identified, also vented his exasperation: “Anybody can be arrested here. Anybody can be slapped with a PSA [Public Safety Act]. We need someone to fall back on.”

In 2019, as many as 662 individuals were booked under the PSA, as per a report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons.

Also Read | Drug addiction-related crime: A new worry stalks Kashmir

In September 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir administration began to regulate the movement of fruit-laden trucks on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway No. 44, allowing only a limited number of trucks to enter Jammu. By the end of that month, over 10,000 trucks were reportedly stuck at Qazigund on the highway, some of them for over 10 days. Several apple orchard owners, who did not want to be named, lamented: “It is a plunder of our resources, yet we cannot utter a word.” Their fear is not unfounded. The way the authorities dealt with Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija, was indicative of their malevolence. When Iltija Mufti recently moved the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to press for renewal of her passport, which had been inordinately delayed, she was issued a country-specific passport for a period of two years.

There is widespread agreement that this was done in retaliation to Mehbooba Mufti’s aggressive street politics against perceived excesses of the ruling dispensation. In February, in the wake of a crisis created by ruthless demolitions, the former Chief Minister landed in New Delhi with her party entourage and attempted a protest march from Railway Bhawan to Parliament, before she was detained by the Delhi Police. Speaking to mediapersons later, she said: “Kashmir is becoming worse than Afghanistan.”

Her PDP, which was discredited by its alliance with the BJP, is now showing signs of recovery in south Kashmir.

But, for the BJP, a pliant L-G government that is willing to spray-paint Kashmir’s past and present with Hindu nationalist motifs is too enticing to let go of.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment