All doubts and uncertainties on the question of holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir finally came to an end when the election commission announced to hold elections in five phases ending on December 20 and counting on 23rd December 2014. Jammu and Kashmir State will be experiencing 12th assembly elections.
In view of the after effects of floods and displacement of large numbers of people from their habitats it had become uncertain whether Assembly elections would be held on time. The term of the ruling party comes to a close on 16th January 2015 when the present coalition Government of (National Conference) NC-Congress led by Omar Abdullah completes its 6-year long inning. According to State Election Authority, only one NC had opposed holding of elections on the heels of floods from which trauma the people in general and electors in particular have not recovered. But this did not sell well with other political parties and various leading personalities who wanted the EC to maintain its calendar. Finally, the ECI took a decision and announced the dates of election.
The J&K State assembly has the strength of 87 members, of which NC ( 28), Cong(17), PDP of Mufti Mohd Sayed ( 21), BJP (11), J&K National Panthers Party JKNPP(3) and Peoples’ Democratic Front (PDF), CPI(M), J&K Democratic Party Nationalist(JKDPN) one each and Independent 4. Congress-NC coalition was kept on tenterhooks strong opposition by J&K Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP in six years tenure. Elections in state were held in 2008.
The total number of electorate is 72, 25,666 and in all 10,015 polling stations will be available for the people to cast their votes. J&K has 87 Assembly seats out of which 7 seats are reserved for SC candidates. Model Code of Conduct has come into force immediately after the polling schedule was announced by the Election Commission.
Assembly elections have assumed much significance after the surge of militancy. Importance of elections was considered antidote to armed insurgency and by and large the voters in the valley turned up in large numbers to cast their vote in previous elections. It is a sad story that the separatists and secessionists usually give a call for boycott of polls. This issue has been extensively debated in the media and the question has been asked as to what gain the call of boycott brings to the people of the Valley in general. The boycott call has always gone against those who give the call because it eliminates the dissenting elements and mainstream political parties find it a windfall.
So far separatists have never succeeded in disrupting elections and this time also they will meet with same failure. The real reason is that ordinary people in the state do not want violence to disrupt their lives. They are peace loving people and know and understand the value of their vote. They want to utilise it in the best possible way and return those to assembly who really would care for the welfare of the people and prosperity and peace in the State. The voting will take place in a phased manner spreading over almost a month’s period. The big reason for extended polling is that security personnel have to be deployed in particular areas with the motive of ensuring fair and free elections.
The ghost of uncertainty still haunts despite the fact that Kashmir psychology is not much difficult to understand as it remains restricted to the slogan of election boycott call of separatists, NC's autonomy, PDP's self-rule, unemployment of youth, security dilemma and the never addressed issues of Bijli, Pani and Sadak. This time a new item has been added - of 'floods' and blame game about who did what and who failed. Thus slogans of rehabilitation of flood victims will also be discussed everywhere. The separatists’ brigade will campaign for boycott and the elections will end with high rural turn out and low urban turn out as usual.
Interestingly, the election has drawn attention towards the significant entry of BJP with its mission 44+. It remains to be seen how they are going to design their campaign in the State especially in the valley where their footing is too weak and where they need to make some dent on issues other than their usual development slogans. Also what can be their manifesto especially the valley centric one, seeing their Article 370 abolition slogan earlier during the parliamentary elections which eventually reflected in their non-performance in the valley. While BJP'S manifesto was widely criticized in the social and intellectual circles the then, the party now seems to be gaining much ground in Jammu and Ladakh but surely will face a tough fight against the massive PDP build-up. The state especially the valley is under PDP wave at the moment, which “Mufti Wave” fanning out of NC's misfortunes, floods, lack of reach out to masses, etc,. BJP, to ensure its success as per master plan is likely to sponsor directly or indirectly a larger number of Independents, only to divide the floating vote. Low turnout would do the rest to the advantage of the BJP, so the party hopes, to help it achieve its goal of 44 plus. And to go by the prevailing mood in the valley there are not many buyers for Omar Abdullah and his party. His government’s poor record of performance has eroded whatever goodwill he may have inherited from his grandfather Sheikh Abdullah and his father, the flamboyant Farooq Abdullah. His failure to tend to the needs of the flood ravaged valley has hurt him badly.
As far as the ruling coalition is concerned (NC - Congress) their lack of unity now can cost them as they keep criticizing each other in public. Anti-incumbency factor fuelled with flood anger is strong among masses and can cost both the partners. PDP obviously appears strong throughout the state and has an energetic young brigade to work for its success but not so smoothly. It only has a few tough seats to win against the big political players of the state especially in Kashmir. Politicians in Kashmir should remember the fact that public has developed enough understanding due to the prolonged suffering and therefore cannot be befooled now. So in order to succeed, they need some content and some substance; not mere rhetoric. Keeping politics, vote bank creation and hoodwinking innocent and unaware voters apart, all the political parties and national leaders irrespective of party affiliations need to understand Jammu and Kashmir, and move forward on peace initiatives and development rather than rubbing salt on the wounds or spilling beans against each other.
The fact remains that even some separatist leaders had recently hailed BJP's concern on K-Issue during the Vajpayee era. However the painful question remains, whether the centre is really thinking with empathy on Kashmir and whether it delivers peanuts or real relief for the flood victims for their proper rehabilitation will be significant ones in electoral politics.
The fact remains that Kashmir and its special identity within the Indian Union has always been politicized for vote bank and the suffering of the natives has always been ignored resulting in people's 'disbelief in everything' culture. The so called ambassadors of peace have over the years manufactured the conflicting ideologies on Kashmir (based on religious, sectarian, ethnic identities and distinctions) to hit its pluralistic ethos by hitting the social fabric simply to keep the lid of uncertainty open.
Surprisingly, national and regional political parties Cong, BJP, NC, PDP and National Panthers Party (NPP) have decided to contest on all the 87 seats on their own and no pre-poll alliance.
But, Congress is working on two strategies. Either to have truck again with NC after the poll or to extend its support to PDP that has capitalized the political ground, after post poll. According to political observers, PDP, of course is going to increase its seats but will be short of members to form the government. But will have no alliance with NC come what may be. According to sources they are left with a choice to get support from BJP. BJP and PDP captured three Lok Sabha seats each and mustered a good number of votes in assembly segments.