Most of the immediate reaction to the just concluded J&K Assembly election has been on its nature and the outcome. True, the verdict is fractured. But what caused it? Is the divided mandate a manifestation of a deeper issue that we have to focus more, than on who will form the government and who support it? What is the Big Picture that is evolving and what it means for the future stability of the State and its people?
Shujaat Bukhari titled his column as the “Fractured Mandate” and The Hindu editorial called it as a “Fragmented Verdict”. National newspapers referred the election results in the following phrases: “Jammu goes the saffron way”; “From a small fry, BJP emerges as major player in state”; and “No easy Options for PDP, BJP”. All these reflect perhaps a reality or a new beginning. The larger question is, what does this portend for J&K and how did this development emerge? Since an eventful year is coming to an end, it will be useful to do a retrospect and make a forecast on why it had happened and what it means.
Statistically, the BJP has swept the Jammu region, with an exception in few constituencies especially in Poonch district. From Bani, Basholi and Kathua to Chhamb, Akhnoor and Nowshera, the BJP has swept the region. However, further west, the story is different in Rajouri, Poonch, Mendhar and Surankote. PDP has captured Rajouri and Poonch, while Mendhar and Surankote have been won by the NC and Congress.
Similarly, there has been a sweep in Bhaderwah-Ramban-Kishtwar belt by the BJP. However, north of Ramban, across the Banihal, it is a different story in Kashmir Valley. The PDP has regained its support base in Kashmir Valley; in fact, had it not been for the boycott call and less polling in Sringar during the last elections, the PDP would have won more seats in 2008 itself.
Across the mighty Zoji La, there is yet another story in Kargil and Leh. The constituencies of Zanskar, Kargil, Leh and Nubra won by candidates who are independent or belonging to the Congress also tell a story.
Besides the bad performance of National Conference and Congress, which was expected, rejection of the Panthers Party and the emergence of Lone’s JKPC in north Kashmir, what do the recent elections signify?
Do the recent elections and its fractured mandate reflect a clear regional divide and a communal fault line in J&K? If the answer is an unfortunate yes, than the first big challenge for any party that forms the government is to address this divide. Why has the BJP that has swept the rest of Jammu region failed in Poonch and Rajouri? Why has PDP that has been the most successful in Valley, failed to repeat its performance outside it, except for few constituencies across the Pir Panjal? Any why has Ladakh neither preferred the BJP nor the PDP? This divide on regional and communal basis, perhaps is the biggest threat to the future of J&K.
The civil societies within J&K will have to ponder the larger implications of the election results, than narrowly focussing on whether PDP will align with BJP, or form the government with support from Congress and NC. The primary issue facing the political parties in J&K is not their ideology, or whether it helps or prevent from forming the next government. The big picture is how to address the looming threat, which has ended up in producing a hung verdict.
Non-addressal of the real cause, and looking at only managing its manifestation will only produce political instability and future hung assemblies. When did a party command a simple majority in J&K? Why has the State produced a series of hung assemblies in the last three elections? The answers remain elsewhere; the hung assembly is only a manifestation of a deeper problem, and just should not be seen as a Saffron Wave, or Modi sweep, or PDP resurgence.
Second major issue facing the new government in J&K and relatively another new one in New Delhi, is to break the political cycle between the State and Union governments. The issue is not whether the government in J&K is a coalition partner of the government in New Delhi; it is rather, how the two governments work in tandem in breaking the cycle of non-movement in crucial issues. Successful elections in J&K, formation of government, promise of movement between New Delhi and J&K, some movements and slogans on cross-LoC CBMs, stalemate, slow performance (if not non-performance) of the government within J&K, disappointment, and the breakdown – has been the general pattern in the last fifteen years.
How to break the above cycle, and pursue a straight path? If the civil societies within J&K will have to come together to address the imbalance question within J&K, the civil societies in J&K and the rest of India will have to come together and discuss how to break the set pattern. Unfortunately, not only the political parties, even the civil societies on both sides of the Lakhanpur border post have invented myths that suit their narrative and does not understand the other.
Rest of India blissfully thinks that a successful election in J&K means the rejection of separatism and terrorism. Peace is measured in terms of absence of violence and the number of people killed or not killed in a day. On the other hand, J&K, especially the Valley is angry about anything and everything and points finger at New Delhi on every ills, with less or no introspection. Both the societies have created an artificial screen with inward looking script, reinforced by their own media perpetuating the monologue about each other. For the agencies and political parties, such a difference and screen fits their primary narrative and prevent them from breaking the cycle.
Else, there will be more Standing Committees, Working Groups and Interlocutors, running in a cyclical path. Perhaps, this is where the media, think tanks, research institutes and Universities could come in, and even join hands in preparing a framework, that would break the above cycle. Unfortunately, the above institutions – be it in J&K or in New Delhi, have been critiquing whatever is happening, without succeeding in providing an alternative. And the civil societies within J&K and across Lakhanpur post get carried away by daily developments and miss the big picture.
Let us sincerely hope, researchers and columnists do not have to write a similar commentary next December on our ability to break the cycle. There have been multiple false starts. Hope the new year and new governments in J&K and New Delhi achieve a sustainable breakthrough.
By arrangement with Rising Kashmir