It is a Jammu versus Kashmir verdict (News Analysis)

December 28th, 2008 - 6:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartySrinagar, Dec 28 (IANS) Jammu and Kashmir has handed over another fractured verdict with no party getting an absolute majority to form the government. But the surprise element this time has been the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) remarkable showing in the Jammu region, which analysts say is indicative of voting on “communal lines”.The votes polled for the new 87-member assembly in the staggered elections spread over a month were counted Sunday. The National Conference emerged as the single largest party, its gains concentrated mainly in the Kashmir Valley. The BJP, which had won just a single seat in the Hindu-majority Jammu region in 2002, has overwhelmingly edged out the Congress there this time.

The Congress’ setback in Jammu is apparently due to the BJP cashing in on the Amarnath land row, which almost created a rift in the state on religious lines in July-August this year.

The only Muslim-majority state in India had witnessed violent communal riots over the allotment of 40 hectares of land to the famous Amarnath shrine in the valley that is visited by millions of Hindus. The land dispute sparked off protests and counter protests in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu and also led to the fall of the Congress-led coalition government.

“The electoral choice indicates a Jammu versus Kashmir battle, clearly on religious lines,” said Maqbool Qadri, 50, a political science teacher.

“Most of the Jammu voters have clearly voted for the BJP remembering the Amarnath land row, even though the Amarnath slogan had little impact in the valley,” Qadri told IANS.

Said Kamal Haq, a migrant Kashmiri Hindu: “The BJP’s good performance in the Jammu region is a manifestation of the polarisation of the state.”

“Amarnath was definitely an issue in Jammu and this is evident in the BJP emerging strong in Congress bastions of Jammu,” said Aditya Raj Kaul, another migrant in Delhi.

But Qadri said though the valley voters mostly preferred to vote on development issues, “they have also kept the Congress at bay by voting for regional parties”.

The PDP emerged victorious only in the valley. The National Conference also had most of its wins from the Muslim-majority region.

Omar Abdullah, the National Conference chief, said the party’s poor performance in Jammu was because of the Amarnath land row.

The Jammu versus Kashmir divide has never been so stark in any assembly election.

In 2002, the National Conference had won nine seats in Jammu and 18 in Kashmir. The Congress had won 15 in Jammu and five in Kashmir valley. The PDP had won all its 16 seats in the Kashmir Valley.

However, the overall message of this landmark election has been the high voter turnout - averaging a high 63 percent - defying poll boycott calls of the separatists. Separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Sajjad Lone have admitted that this has surprised them and they needed to “introspect” to find out why their call went unheeded by such large sections of the population.

Omar Abdullah said the separatists could only run their writ so far “with the help of a gun”, indicating that the separatists’ call did not enjoy mass backing. Politicians of all hues were unanimous that the average Kashmiri voter gave a thumbs up to development and voted in the expectation that their elected representative would fulfil their basic demands of “bijli, sarak, pani” (power, road, water) while the more emotive issues of freedom and autonomy could take a back seat for now.

Predictably, there are differing interpretations of the voter message. While the mainstream politicians and media interpret it as a vote for India, others say it would be unwise to jump to such conclusions. They would rather wait for a new government to form and the unravelling of its new policies to see which way Kashmir and its blood spattered politics go in future.

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