Ladakh Council Election: The Failure of BJP's Political Engineering in J&K

The BJP has consistently claimed that the people of J&K and Ladakh are happy with what happened on 5 August 2019.

6 min read

Whether the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, enshrined in the Constitution of India, will be restored or not, whether the Central government’s decision of 5 August was lawful or illegal, a five-member bench of the Supreme Court of India headed by the honorable Chief Justice DY Chandrachud has completed the hearing, the decision of which is yet to come.

While the case is sub-judice in the apex court, the central government of the Bhartiya Janta Party has brought various changes through legislative and administrative measures, that is, via Lieutenant Governors.

However, the Opposition parties like National Conference (NC), People's Democratic Party (PDP), and Indian National Congress (INC) have maintained that since the matter is sub-judice before the Supreme Court, the Union government has no moral authority to enact legislation regarding J&K and Ladakh.

The primary goal of the BJP to adopt this strategy is to strengthen its political ground, in which it has failed miserably so far.

The recently concluded Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections (October 2023) in Ladakh, and before that, District Development Council elections in 2020 in J&K proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the ruling party's narrative that people are happy with its decision.

After changing the special status and bifurcating the state into UTs, these were the maiden electoral exercises in both.


Local Body Polls:  A Litmus Test for the BJP

The ruling party has consistently claimed on national and international forums that the people of J&K and Ladakh are happy with what happened on 5 August 2019.

A 27-member delegation of allegedly like-minded parliamentarians from the European Union has been invited to visit Kashmir to assess the situation. It was like throwing dust in the eyes of civil society, human rights organisations, and the Indian public at large because that was a time, despite repeated efforts of the Opposition parties, when no sansad from Opposition political parties was allowed to visit the region.

The billion-dollar question is: How much has BJP's socio-political engineering approach succeeded so far?

On 4 October in Ladakh, elections were held for the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil. The people rejected its narrative and trusted the NC-INC alliance. Of the 26 seats, the NC won 12 and Congress 10, two for independents and two go to BJP.

Before the elections, the Ladakh administration had refused to allow the party symbols to the NC candidates. This arbitrary decision of the administration was reversed after the order of the Supreme Court.

Earlier, the people of Jammu and Kashmir in 2020 gave their verdict against BJP in the district-level Panchayati elections (District Development Councils) that were held in December 2020 in all 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir. The Opposition alliance, then called Gupkar Alliance, defeated the BJP. Despite open unilateral level playing, it hardly managed to form its DDC chairperson in five districts.

Compared to today, the BJP was more prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir before the special status was revoked. It was a coalition partner in the Mufti-led government. The PDP was also part of the NDA.

Well-known prominent political leaders were also joining it across the spectrum. Abdul Ghani Kohli and Talib Choudhary are such examples from the Pir Panjal. Kohli was the lone Muslim MLA among the 25 BJP MLAs in the 2014 elections.

After the abrogation of Article 370, all the regional parties who had soft hearts for the BJP distanced themselves. Even the leaders who wish to do so refrain from joining it because they fear losing public support.

The Dogra Factor

In the 2014 state legislative Assembly elections, the BJP for the first time came into the power corridor and became the coalition partner with the Mufti Sayeed-led PDP. It won 25 seats, all from Jammu and its adjoining districts. After Mufti died in 2015, it supported the deceased’s daughter.

The Assembly was dissolved in 2018. The party realised it failed to fulfill the promise and lost popular hold in all 10 districts of Kashmir Province; now, it is consistently trying to cash the Dogra card by adopting an anti-Koshar narrative.

The anti-Koshar narrative is: For the past seventy years, the Kashmiri-dominated political parties (referring to the central leadership of NC and PDP) have been robbing the state and occupying the resources, including political power.

In the ethnic landscape of J&K, the prominent ethnic community is Kashur, followed by Dogra and Gujjar.

The top and local BJP leadership, including the prime minister in political rallies in J&K, verbally attacked the local political parties over the dynastic legacy. This rhetoric aimed to create a gulf between the Jammu and Kashmir provinces.

The Dogra leadership of Jammu Considers the abrogation move incomplete due to its lack of alignment with their demand for a full-fledged state. Dogras have been demanding a separate state from Kashmir province. Still, the problem with this demand is that, unlike the Kashmir province, Jammu province is much more diverse and not homogeneous lingually, culturally, and religiously.

The four districts, Jammu itself and adjoining (Kathua, Udhampur, and Samba), have a sense of homogeneity. The remaining six, comprising Pir Panjal and Chenab, are majority Muslim and diverse in every aspect. The demand for carving out a full-fledged state out of Kashmir province has two fundamental flaws.

It is a demand of people belonging to Dogra culture. The remaining communities have no interest in such demands. Such a demand might be problematic for the central leadership of the BJP because it seemed not ready to create a new Muslim-majority state on the Indian political map.

There has been some assurance to the leadership of Jammu from the BJP. This can be vindicated from the case of Ravinder Rana, the younger brother of Union Minister Jatinder Singh. 'The Jammu Declaration' echoed upon his joining the BJP. On his return from Delhi, he raised the matter of Jammu and promised to do anything for the cause.

After 2019, he is the only prominent leader holding the public constituency who joined the BJP. He was a staunch supporter of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and was considered a loyal companion of the Abdullah family in the Dogra belt.

It has been over two years since his joining, but his promised Jammu declaration has yet to come out to the public.

There has been resentment among the people of Jammu as they realise that the abrogation would hit them first. The provision of a State subject certificate was brought by the Maharaja in 1927 on the demand of Kashmiri Pandits and the people of Jammu to ensure job protection and stop outsiders from buying land.


Trouble Over Reservations

The setback in the DDC elections in 2020 may have forced the BJP to think of making people happy by playing the reservation card. In the beginning and up until those elections, it was mute about any such policy and was calling Gujjars its loyalists. So far, no prominent Gujjar leader has joined it.

Many commentators believe the new proposed reservation policy will bring the trump card to BJP's hands, but it does not.

In the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, which was adjourned a few weeks ago, there were four Bills related to Jammu and Kashmir. All those were about changing the existing reservation policy. Amendments in the Scheduled Tribes Act and adding a linguistic group to the list sparked outrage from Gujjars and Bakerwals.

Prominent political parties, personalities, and social organisations supported the Gujjars and Bakerwals. The organisation that issued statements in favor of protesting Gujjars includes the Samajwadi Party, Chandrashekar Azad (chief of Bhim Sena), and Satya Pal Malik (Former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir).

According to Gujjars and Bakerwals, granting ST status to more than 200 castes belonging to different lineages will re-write the reservation provision. They also have objected to the GD Sharma Commission, on whose recommendation the said Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha. By promising ST status to the Pahari community, the BJP is caught in its own trap.

Of the proposed Bills, one was about increasing the quota of OBC up to 27 percent from the existing 4. That will happen by abolishing the existing categories such as RBA, ALC, etc. The backward castes that would be placed under this are spread across the UT instead of in a particular place. This calculus also won't work for the BJP.

After 2019, most people from all the communities who joined the BJP have no public constituencies. For example, Ghulam Ali Khatana was nominated to the Rajya Sabha till then as an anonymous figure to the Gujjars, and they still don’t consider him their leader.

The BJP nominated Khatana to the Rajya Sabha and falsely claimed he was the first sansad from the Gujjar community in Rajya Sabha. This needs to be factually corrected. Before him, the late Choudhary Mohammad Aslam of Congress had been in Rajya Sabha in 2005. Another Gujjar, Talib Choudhary from Rajouri, was elected to the Lok Sabha, defeating the BJP candidate on an NC ticket.

Recently, the election commission has announced the schedule for the Assembly elections in five states. Jammu and Kashmir is not on the list. It has been five years since the dissolution of the elected Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, but the elections are not near. Some quarters are assuming that fear of defeat is one of the reasons that the Central government is not ready to give green signals to hold Assembly elections.

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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