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What These Results Mean for Modi and BJP
Mission 44 was always going to be a tough ask, a target Narendra Modi set deliberately high for the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir because he needed to prove his model of ‘Development with Hindutva characteristics’ had takers in India’s only Muslim-majority state.
In the event, the party did much better than it has ever done before but mainly because it won virtually every pocket where Hindu voters are in a plurality. While all of its 25 seats come from the Jammu region, the BJP lost its deposit across Kashmir and its feisty but ultimately much-hyped candidate from Amirakadal in Srinagar, Heena Shafi Bhat, placed a distant third.
On a plain reading of the numbers, then, the BJP’s ‘Mission’ has been a failure but it has definitely left its imprint on the politics of the state. Ms Bhat and a host of other BJP candidates in constituencies like Hazratbal and Shopian may have lost their deposits, but they managed to outpoll the Congress party, establishing a small presence in the Valley for the first time. Moreover, the party’s impressive score in Jammu makes it a serious contender for power as an ally of either the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) or the National Conference, especially if Modi is able to leverage the promise of New Delhi’s backing for any coalition government that has his blessing.
Much will depend on how the power games play out over the next 48 hours as key players in what is obviously a hung assembly weigh their options. For the BJP, the result presents an opportunity for it to broadbase its approach to the state’s problems and act not just as the representatives of (Hindu) voters in Jammu. This would mean shedding the more contentious parts of its programme, such as advocating the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution granting special status to J&K, not to speak of the wider Hindutva agenda that continues to exert a baneful influence over the party and its government.
Confounding the pre-poll surveys, Omar Abdullah and the National Conference have survived to fight another day. The temptations of office as an alliance partner of the BJP might seem irresistible to it and to the PDP, which improved its tally on an anti-incumbency wave. However, both parties will need to overcome misgivings about the impact such a tie-up would have on their (Muslim) voters who are troubled by the chauvinism of the Hindutva brigade.
On paper, the PDP and the Congress have the numbers to form a government provided they can rope in some of the smaller parties and independents. PDP leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed may be most comfortable with this arrangement, but it will take all his skill as a politician to ensure the Modi government at the Centre does not turn hostile as a result.
If Kashmir was a bridge too far and the BJP knew it, the party’s failure to win a convincing majority in Jharkhand ought to trigger concern about fighting election campaigns around the personality of Narendra Modi when the appeal of his cult is clearly beginning to wane.
So confident of the Modi wave was the BJP that a section of its state leadership, notably Raghubar Das, wanted the party to fight all 81 seats on its own and promise the electorate a majority government that would not be dependent on coalition partners.
After all, the party had won as many as 57 Vidhan Sabha segments in the 2014 general election. However, BJP president Amit Shah and former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda knew better, and tied up with the All Jharkhand Students Union. As it turns out, it is only with the AJSU’s 4 seats that the BJP, which is leading in 38 seats, will be in a position to form the next government in the state.
So what are the national-level takeaways from the election results in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir?
First, if the Congress alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) in Jharkhand came a cropper, the resurgence of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha – with whom the Congress ran a coalition government in Ranchi – suggests the BJP remains vulnerable to intelligent seat-sharing arrangements. In Kashmir too, a deal between the Congress and National Conference – which ran a coalition for six years – would have definitely altered the electoral picture in the state.
Second, regardless of the outcome, the emergence of robust contestation in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir has created an opportunity for people – particularly in the Valley – to think afresh about elections as a form of political participation. Already, the Peoples’ Conference of the former separatist leader Sajjad Lone has won two seats. Perhaps the months and years ahead will see new parties and politicians emerging in the state.
Third, the BJP needs to make a fundamental choice about what kind of party it wants to be, and it is Narendra Modi who really has to take a call on this. The party’s sweep in Jammu may encourage Hindutva hotheads to believe polarization is a good thing. However, its failure to make much of a dent in the Valley – whose people are thirsting for “development, “good governance” and all the other things Modi says he is interested in – shows the downside to the chauvinist politics that has been on display across India the past few months.
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Story First Published: December 23, 2014 15:43 IST