BJP Chances in Kashmir – An Overview

The BJP put up a very impressive performance in Kashmir in the recently concluded LS 2014 polls, which has given hope to its supporters that a total victory in Kashmir is possible. In this article, based on the demographics, and BJP performance in the past (LS2014, to be precise), we will analyse just how much swing BJP will need in the region to actually win. Whether BJP is chasing a mirage or a perfectly feasible goal, I shall leave to the readers to judge for themselves.

Kashmir is made up of 3 regions, viz, Kashmir Valley, Jammu & the Chenab valley, and Ladakh. It is an open question whether the Chenab valley should be clubbed with Duggar desh in the unified Jammu sub-division, since there are some differences between the non-Dogras and the Dogras. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, I have put the Jammu districts together in my analysis.


Ladakh

There are 4 seats in the Ladakh region, viz, Kargil, Zanskar, Nubra, and Leh. The votes won by the BJP, and the INC+NC are shown below.

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The BJP, in the recently concluded LS2014 polls, won Leh, and came a close second in Nubra as can be seen. With an effort, the BJP should be able to retain Leh, and win Nubra too. However, in Zanskar, it was placed a distant 4th.behind the Cong+NC candidate and two independents (both Muslims), who won 5690 and 6046 votes. Further, Zanskar is a Muslim dominated seat (~70% Muslim), and the BJP in the forthcoming Assembly poll has fielded a Buddhist (Shree Sianzin Lakpa), so I will leave it to the readers to compute the BJP’s chances of winning Zanskar. In Kargil, the BJP got 1963 votes in the LS2014 polls, but the same two Muslim independents who outdid it in the Zanskar got 20507 and 23411 votes respectively. Kargil is also Muslim dominated (90%+ Muslim). Unless the BJP candidate in the Assembly polls (Shree Abdul Aziz) manages to win based on his own stature, the BJP is unlikely to make much headway in this seat too. To win, the BJP needs to win more than 10 times what it got in the recently concluded LS2014.


Kashmir Valley:

For the Kashmir valley, we shall perform a different kind of experiment. We shall examine the BJP’s performance in the different Assembly segments in the Valley. Shown below is the BJP performance in every seat in the valley. We have divided the table by the three Lok Sabha seats in the valley. The seats where the BJP has got more than 500 votes are highlighted.

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We have highlighted every cell where the BJP won more than 500 votes in Baramulla constituency. Given that the winner in almost all constituencies in Baramulla got 7000 to 40000 votes (one exception was Sopore, where the winner got only ~500 votes according to Form 20 of the ECI – one fervently hopes this was not a mistake in the ECI report), we imagine that having at least 500 votes is a pre-requisite for the BJP to be taken seriously in these particular Assembly segments, no matter how the vote splits, coheres, migrates, rises due to higher participation and all manner of permutations and combinations thereof. We have also tabulated the winner in those highlighted seats to give the readers an indication of how the BJP vote compares against the winners’ vote.

In Srinagar, where the separatist boycott interfered with the voting, the winning vote was over 4000 in most segments except for a few Srinagar city constituencies, where the winner got very low number of votes. However, given that the BJP strategy of winning with the Pandit votes has got wide publicity over the last few months, it must be expected that wherever the number of Pandit votes is high, the constituencies will see a decent turnout. In the Srinagar seats where the BJP expects to do well, Habbakadal and Amirakadal, the BJP got a grand total of 31 and 113 votes respectively in the LS2014 polls. The Pandits simply did not care to vote at all, one imagines, or even if they did, they chose not to vote the BJP.

In Anantnag, except for a couple of constituencies like Tral, the total vote of the winner is above 4000 votes. In Anantnag, where the BJP is depending on the Pandit votes for victory, in LS2014, the BJP won 106 votes, while the winner 9689 votes. There is only one constituency where the BJP won more than 500 votes, and that is in Pahalgam. There, the winner got 24355 votes.

From the above tables and information, it should be easy to see that the BJP will be extremely lucky to open an account. Winning 5 seats, as has been bandied about, will require nothing less than a divine miracle.


Jammu:

It is here that the BJP put up a spectacular performance in the LS 2014. There are a total of 37 seats in Jammu. Of these, the BJP won 9 of the 17 in Udhampur, and 15 of the 20 in Jammu. To make a long story short, the BJP won nearly every seat which has a Hindu majority in Jammu. In fact, it even won borderline seats like Akhnur, Kalakote and Bani. Just repeating this feat, when it faces off against some Cong. and National Conference stalwarts will be a great achievement. In other words, the BJP, more or less, squeezed every drop of Hindu vote it already could in Jammu. Improvement can be hard. What can the BJP hope to improve? To examine this, we shall tabulate the BJP performance in the seats that it lost in Jammu in LS2014 polls.

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In Udhampur, the BJP lost all the seats where the Hindus are in a minority. In fact, the communal divide was almost total with almost the entire Muslim vote going to Shree Ghulam Nabi Azad, and the bulk of the Hindu vote accruing to Dr. Jitendra Singh. Let us examine where the BJP may be able to do slightly better, by pushing for a better vote share. Of the above constituencies, the BJP lost narrowly in Ramban and Kishtwar constituencies. In the rest of the constituencies (all of which are Muslim, with only Bhaderwah being a bit on the borderline), the BJP is going to find any further progress tough, unless it can break the Muslim vote. And that is really hard. The BJP never gets Muslim vote, in any large degree. In fact, Muslims tend to vote tactically to stop the BJP. Overcoming this handicap in Jammu & Kashmir is a huge challenge for the BJP. Thus far, it has never been able to surmount them.

Of the five segments it lost in Jammu, only Rajouri is even remotely retrievable, and even that is going to be extremely hard. The other four vote purely like Kashmir valley constituencies, as evidenced by the vote divided between the NC-INC combine and the PDP, with the BJP finishing a very distant third.

Given these constraints, what is the maximum that the BJP can win in Jammu and Kashmir?

The BJP can win 2/4 in Ladakh. It will need to be extremely lucky to even open its account in Kashmir valley. In fact, it will need a miracle for the BJP to even open its account in Kashmir Valley. In Jammu, the maximum it can do is retain the 24 seats it won in LS 2014 polls, and add Rajouri, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah and Ramban. This means that the BJP will win 28 in Jammu (a phenomenal performance, to achieve this), 2 of the 4 in Ladakh, and 0/46 in Kashmir Valley. The maximum the BJP can win is 30 seats. More likely, the BJP will win around 25 seats. This should be the safe bet for the BJP. Winning 44 seats in Jammu & Kashmir is a very tall order.

But apart from these cynical politics, there are two more worrying trends for both the BJP, and even more so, for the region. The BJP, in its determination to win over the Chenab valley, which has often been discriminated against by the Valley politicians who have nothing but thinly-veiled contempt for this backward area, is trying to strike up bargains with the not-so-pleasant characters of the Chenab region. This has the potential to destroy the Hindu vote bank of the BJP. Since the 90s, the radicalisation of the Chenab valley has proceeded apace, with Saudi and UP based clerics, routinely lecturing the locals on hardcore Islam. Further, since the 90s, there have been several massacres of the Hindus that have set the minority Hindu population of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and Rajouri on the edge. Last year’s carefully planned Kishtwar riots are just an indication of just how far radicalisation has proceeded. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Kishtwar-riots-an-ISI-bid-at-ethnic-cleansing-Defence-expert/articleshow/22601966.cms Village Defence Committees (VDCs) were set up in the last days of the 90s and the first decade of the 21st century, to protect the rural Hindus against massacres perpetrated by terrorists. VDCs, which are manned mostly by the Hindus, are, in particular, a source of tension between the Hindus and the Muslims of the region, with the Muslims alleging atrocities by the armed VDCs against civilians, and the Hindus being fiercely protective of the only realistic source of protection to them. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kishtwar-riots-village-defence-committees-accused-of-attacks/1/310122.html The last Jammu & Kashmir government had begun arming Muslims of hill Jammu, and begun posting special police officers to these regions, often making the tensions worse. But the Army posts are often hours away by road, and the VDCs are the only realistic source fo protection for the Hindus. VDCs themselves have been targeted umpteen times by the terrorists, and it is alleged, with local collaboration. In the mid 90s, even a Hindu region like Bhaderwah at the southern end of Doda district, had seen rampant activity by the terrorists, particularly in the rural areas, spooking the Hindu population. The ISI and the Islamists have long harboured ideas of triggering another exodus of the Hindus from the hill regions of Jammu (see Gen. GD Bakshi’s `Kishtwar Cauldron’ for a fantastic analysis of the situation). Any realistic chance the BJP has of winning over the Muslims in the region is by promising concessions on the VDCs. But if the BJP does this, it will lose the support of the Hindus. Consequently, the BJP will have to choose between the two. Further, while many Hindus support revocation of Art. 370, the Chenab valley Muslims are desperately opposed to it, fearing dilution of their population numbers by immigrants from other states.

The other hope of the BJP, the Kashmiri Pandits (and other assorted Hindus of the Kashmir Valley), whose vote the BJP cadre is trying to get, is similarly not overly enthusiastic mainly for one reason. They know that the BJP cannot promise them return to their homes. There is, sadly, an across the board consensus among the Kashmiri parties that what happened to the Pandits is fine and they must not be allowed to return. The property of the Pandits has been mostly taken over (or even sold for a pittance by the Pandits themselves) as they scrounged for existence in the refugee camps of Delhi and Jammu, and their return is fraught. And even if the Pandits property remains intact in the valley, how will the government provide protection across rural Kashmir, where many of them resided, and where most of them are totally unwanted? The present government has made some half hearted moves towards asking the Jammu & Kashmir government to identify areas for a Pandit enclave in Kashmir, but the land availability of, and indeed, even feasibility for, such a project remains in doubt. The problem, consequently, for the BJP, is that they have nothing material to offer the Kashmiri Pandits. Also, many of them are understandably bitter after years of neglect by everyone, including the BJP, which apart from some lip sympathy has been totally unable to protect their interests. Indeed, neither the current government, nor its predecessor, has done anything (at least, as yet) even for the Hindu refugees from PoK (who fled during the Kashmir war of 1947) and have been living on the margins, harassed at every step. It is presumed that there are about three to five lakh such Hindus. There are also another 1-1.5 lakh Hindus who are refugees from West Punjab, who came either during 1947 or 1971, who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha, but will be unable to vote for the BJP in the current Assembly elections (due to Art. 370) because the BJP has not cleared their domicile status.  Further, in a mammoth rally at Jammu last year, the present prime minister, forgot the plight of the Kashmiri Hindus (belatedly tweeting who could forget about their plight, which was particularly ironic considering he had just done that in his speech).

The only sales pitch that the BJP has is that it is better at development than its opponents. But that same development is hamstrung by Art. 370, which the BJP cannot remove (it is irrelevant whether the BJP wants to remove it or not; they simply do not have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha to do it). Consequently, it is a pretty much empty plate they are offering to their core constituency, no matter the amount of window dressing.

Given these constraints, the BJP will be lucky if they can repeat the feat of the Lok Sabha and it will be phenomenal change if they can touch 30 seats in the Assembly.

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