August 23, 2014

MAIDAN-e-JUNG - Part II

JAMMU, KASMIR & LADAKH: THE BATTLE FOR THE REGIONS


Earlier this week, Congress leader and former health minister in the Omar Abdullah cabinet Sham Lal Sharma kicked up a storm when he said that the next CM of the northern state should be a Hindu. Speaking at a function to mark the birthday of former PM Rajiv Gandhi, the Akhnoor MLA was clearly trying to play the 'communal' card in the Jammu region which the BJP had swept in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls. I wonder where the likes of Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer are when someone within the Congress ranks makes such 'shameful' statements. Anyway, the rise of the saffron outfit in Jammu Kashmir has completely changed the political equations in the northern state. Aware that this is perhaps the best chance that the BJP has to come to power here, newly appointed party president Amit Shah has given a clarion call to the cadre here to work towards the accomplishment of his ambitious "Mission 44+'.

I do not want to sound 'communal' but there is certain amount of truth in what the former cabinet minister has said, that is, if we analyze his comments keeping in mind, the various regions in the state and the aspirations of the people there. A look back into history suggests that ever since the former princely state joined the Indian Union, all its Chief Ministers have been from the Valley. Accounting for 53% of the total population of the state and considering that Kashmir sending 46 MLAs to the state assembly, the leaders from here have dominated the state politics, besides monopolizing the position of the CM. However, this winter, things might turn out to be different. The three way battle in the Valley and the possibility of the saffron outfit sweeping Jammu could turns Sharma's 'vision' of a Hindu heading the state into reality, albeit the person may not be owing his allegiance either to the Gandhis or the Abdullahs or even the Muftis.

To understand how important the results in the Kashmir region have been in deciding the CM of the state, we need to go back in history. In 2008, Omar Abdullah was sworn in as the CM of the state after the NC joined hands with the Congress to form a coalition government. The two partners had together won 23 of the 46 seats here. Six years earlier, when the Muftis tied up with the INC, they had together won 21 seats, one more than the NC which ended up with a tally of 20. When Farooq Abdullah took over the reins of Jammu Kashmir in 1996, his outfit swept the Valley, winning a whopping 37 seats. Now coming to the polls scheduled later this year, it remains to be seen in the three cornered contest, will any one of the three contenders - the National Conference (NC), the People's Democratic Party (PDP) or the Congress can win a sizable number of seats from here. The Muftis, after winning all three seats from the Valley in the General Elections are hoping to do what the Abdullahs did way back in 1996. If either the NC or the PDP can win 25 to 30 seats here, then it could lay a legitimate claim to the CM's post.

Meanwhile, the results in the Jammu region would be the one that I will certainly keep an eye on. After beating former CM and Congress heavyweight Ghulam Nabi Azad in Udhampur and winning the Jammu seat by a massive margin, the BJP is expected to seen a big rise from its earlier tally of 11 seats. BJP chief Amit Shah certainly had these results in mind when he spoke of his grand plans of a BJP led regime in Srinagar. With 36 seats on the line, the BJP has to perform out of its skin and go past the 30 mark and to be in a position to dictate terms. Irrespective of May results, one needs to keep in mind that the state elections will be a different ball game altogether. The party lacks a leader who can help it do well, something that Modi did earlier this year. Moreover, the saffron outfit will have to see off the challenge posed by the likes of the Congress as well as Bhim Singh's Panther's Party (JKNPP) which have strong presence in certain pockets. The PDP too is said to have made some inroads in this part of the state.

Finally, how can one forget the third region - Ladakh. Though it may not find a place in the name of the state, it is fast emerging as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country. With a population comprising of Muslims and Buddhists, the people here elect 4 seats to the state legislature. Probably, it is because of this that Ladakh does not have much of a say in most matters that affect Jammu Kashmir. However, that may change in case the PDP and the BJP end up winning equal or close to equal number of seats in the other two regions put together. In that scenario, the 4 seats here may decide who heads the next regime in Srinagar. In the big polls, the BJP won the seat by a margin of just 36 votes. Considering that the margin of victory was very less, it is difficult to say who has the edge in Ladakh in the forthcoming polls.


For more posts on the Jammu Kashmir 2014 State Elections, click here (Link)