The Poll Message: Loud and Clear

21 May, 2014    ·   4457

Shujaat Bukhari analyses how and why the Indian general elections played out in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the way it did

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
The results of just concluded elections to six Lok Sabha constituencies have come up with a mix of surprise and concern. While all the three seats in Kashmir valley have gone to opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s kitty, Ladakh and Jammu have been taken away by Bharatiya Janta Party. In the valley, the ruling National Conference (supported by Congress) had not expected decimation to the extent that its president would taste the defeat for the first time in more than 30 years.  So was the case with former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had tested electoral waters for parliament for the first time from his home turf. The results came as a jolt to the party as well as the coalition government as all the five sitting MP’s of Jammu, Udhampur, Anantnag, Baramulla and Srinagar lost the elections. This in other words meant that people had lost faith in the government run by the NC-Congress combination and also in the sitting MPs.

The verdict of people was based on different factors in all the three regions. But the underlying message was clear that people across the state were fed up with the misgovernance, rampant corruption and defunct administration run by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. His five- and-a-half-year old government has surely been gloating over the “achievements” such as Right to Information Act, Public Service Guarantee Act, strengthening the accountability institutions and the development projects, but people have not seen the “fruits” of such pompous measures and that is why the verdict manifested the anger people had been harbouring for all these years.
Even if they did all what they have been saying, but all these “good steps” were halted by the government itself. For example, RTI was weakened by amendments in RTI rules making it soft towards bureaucracy. The ministers challenged Accountability Commission’s power when they moved courts much before they would initiate a process. Developmental projects have been going on snail’s pace and the cry over empty treasuries has been growing louder. There are many more skeletons in the cupboard. But the arrogance of the political power centre at the highest level caps it all.

Apart from tasting an inept administration every now and then, lack of justice at the hands of the government played a vital role in writing the epitaph of the ruling coalition in these elections. It is a fact that nearly 70 percent people boycotted the elections, thus showing no faith in the instrument of vote, but the atmosphere rallying around the sense of insecurity and injustice had been building up since 2009 when two women were raped and murdered in Shopian and then the tragedy was dismissed as a “drowning” incident. Killing of 120 people, mostly youth in 2010 was another blow to people who lost their sense of security. Not a single person was booked for the crime of killing the unarmed youth. The last nail was the hanging of Afzal Guru that hit the psyche of an average Kashmiri very hard. Not that people were expecting much from the government, but the way the NC led coalition accepted his hanging and then denying body to his family as something fait accompli, exposed it as the most disempowered government. Anger had been brewing and a section of people gave vent to that.

The chief minister’s repeated assertions for about three years that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) would go during his tenure (now only five months are left) also proved to be a hoax. He could not rein in Army, which has been involved in killing civilians during his rule. The Unified Headquarters (UHQ) became ineffective with civilian government losing control to police and armed forces.

Moreover, the way NC centered its election campaign that was also out of place. They upped the ante against Narendar Modi through the arch rival Muftis. It surely did not strike a chord with people; as for them all the parties in Delhi were same. And Omar Abdullah seeking votes for his candidates Mehboob Beg and Shariefuddin Shariq, in the name of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi was something bizarre. He could not list his own achievements or those of his sitting MP’s but of a falling “prince” who himself pushed his party into oblivion. Now that he talks about learning the lesson, but five months, in run-up to Assembly elections is too short a time for Chief Minister who always preferred to address his people through TV channels in Delhi.

Jammu and Udhampur were the only exception in BJP’s election campaign based on governance and development plank. Modi becoming Prime Minister could do little for Jammu region when it comes to development, but his wave, which was dismissed repeatedly by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, was used by his party to polarize the region.

“We voted for Modi” was the locution from majority of voters as if Modi was the “son of the soil”. Not that people should not have exercised the choice in favour of Modi or BJP but the way a community was consolidated en-block on one side does not augur well for the health of a state that has valued pluralism for long time.

The biggest jolt was to Ghulam Nabi Azad, who stands alone in last 65 years as far as owning Jammu region is concerned. His penchant for development in the region and giving an identity to Jammu by becoming the first Chief Minister did not deserve the defeat and that too on the basis of religion. If development and governance became the hallmark of BJP’s election campaign and ultimately the reason for spectacular win in rest of India, in Jammu and Udhampur it was just the polarization that turned tables.

Here too the NC’s decision to concede the space to Congress and not playing the cards to the advantage of keeping the state together played a significant role in pushing the voters to one side. BJP’s state leadership may not succeed in convincing Modi to immediately abrogate the Article 370, but the voices for such divisive agenda have ultimately been legitimized. In the future the thread of keeping the state together will weaken.

Ladakh too was surprising though the margin was lowest in India. Here again the internal squabbling within the Congress and NC having three MLA’s in the region sheepingly surrendered before the Congress. For both the parties the alliance has come at a cost and proved disastrous, according to their leaders but for the state too it is going to prove very expensive.