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Kashmir Valley Votes Against BJP-RSS As Hindu-Muslim Rift Widens

Many said they were turning to the National Conference as a party that had stood apart from the Hindutva forces. 

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That the Kashmir Valley stood out as an island, amid the tsunami of support for Prime Minister Modi from across the country, is hardly surprising. The Valley gave decisive support to the regional party, the National Conference (NC).

In fact, the pro-NC vote in the Kashmir Valley was essentially a vote against the RSS and the BJP. During the campaign, many voters seemed to associate the two other regional parties, the PDP and the People’s Conference, with the Hindutva-based party and its parent organisation.

In that light, many said they were turning to the NC as a party that had stood apart from the Hindutva forces. Many seemed to be voting for the NC rather than for its candidate.

Kashmiris by and large do not negatively view the fact that NC Vice-President Omar Abdullah was a part of the Vajpayee-led NDA government until 2004. In general, people have been able to make a strong distinction between the Vajpayee-led NDA and the Modi-led one.

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Elusive Assembly Elections

In many voters’ minds, these elections were a chance to express their choice for the elusive state assembly. There is no logical reason as to why the assembly elections were not held along with the Lok Sabha elections—except that the Centre seems to have tried to make an impression on the ground with its ‘efficient work’ during President’s Rule, for a while longer.

Governor Satya Pal Malik had dissolved the previous assembly last November instead of allowing a secular coalition of the NC, PDP, and the Congress to form a state government.

In some parts of North Kashmir, voters spoke of their assembly constituency candidates as if these were in the fray for the Lok Sabha.

PC Suffers from ‘BJP-Link’

The People’s Conference, led by Sajad Lone, put up a strong fight in its north Kashmir stronghold, but suffered from the public impression that it had been ready to take power in the state with the backing of the ruling establishment at the Centre.

Raja Aijaz Ali, the PC’s candidate, is a former police officer with a good image. He ought to have done well since he is a Pahadi; North Kashmir has several concentrated Pahadi communities in places like his native Uri, Karnah, and Gurez.

The People’s Conference candidate for the Srinagar seat, the son of the late Shia leader Iftikhar Ansari, came in third—behind the PDP candidate, Agha Mohsin. NC President Farooq Abdullah won the seat.

Some PC leaders had been confident they would also take the South Kashmir seat, but their candidate Zafar Ali Khatana only got 1.2 percent of the votes polled there.

The BJP’s Sofi Yousuf, a popular activist in South Kashmir, polled almost the double of that—2.3 percent.

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A Violence-Wracked South Kashmir

The NC’s Hasnain Masoodi won the Anantnag seat, although the retired judge is a new entrant to the electoral arena. He defeated not only PDP President and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, but also the Congress’s State President Ghulam Ahmad Mir. The constituency, which has been wracked with violence increasingly over the past decade, had the lowest turnout. There was barely any voting in the Shopian and Pulwama districts.

Masoodi apparently pulled a lot of votes from the Pahalgam area in the east of the constituency, and in the mountain areas above Damhal Hanjipora in the west of the constituency.

Anger Against PDP, Increase In Hindu-Muslim Rift

The result is a resounding rejection of the PDP, which ruled the state from 2015 to 2018 in coalition with the BJP. Mufti came in third in her native south Kashmir.

The result has deepened the already strong Hindu-Muslim divide within the state, and with regard to the perception of India.

The radicalisation of millennial Kashmiris, which has been increasing in recent years, is likely to deepen amid perceptions of a hardened Hindu identity as the national identity.

As leader of a three-member party in the new house, Farooq Abdullah could contribute his experience and the inclusive positions of his party.

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A Radical Campaign

North Kashmir had by far the most active campaign among the three constituencies in the Valley, and a relatively large turnout—around 40 percent.

Aijaz Ali of the PC was in a neck-and-neck contest with ‘engineer’ Rashid Ahmed for second place; both were behind the NC’s Akbar Lone—a former assembly speaker known for his coarse words.

Rashid, who takes strident positions, had promised during the campaign that he would demand a plebiscite from the floor of the Lok Sabha.

Shah Faesal Loses Out

Former IAS officer Shah Faesal would probably have won the election hands down from his native north Kashmir if he had contested on an NC ticket.

Faesal has publicly indicated that NC Vice-President Omar Abdullah was ready to have him in the party. Faesal, who made an initial splash when he entered the political arena, appears to have been ill-advised not to contest for the Lok Sabha.

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BJP Wave in Jammu Region

The BJP won both seats in the Jammu region comfortably. As in 2014, there was a Modi wave among the majority Hindus of the region. However, as in the rest of the country, this wave was Hindutva-driven rather than the development-oriented wave of 2014.

Dr Jitendra Singh, who has been minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office for the past five years, handily won with 61.7 percent of the vote. That was almost twice the 30.9 percent votes obtained by the Congress’s Vikramaditya Singh, a scion of the state’s erstwhile Dogra rulers, in the Udhampur constituency.

BJP Regains Ladakh

In Ladakh, the country’s largest constituency in terms of area, the disillusionment that has been apparent against the BJP among Ladakh’s Buddhists led to a relatively moderate turnout—54 percent.

BJP candidate Tsering Namgyal nevertheless gave a tough fight. Counting witnessed a see-saw battle between him and Sajjad Hussain, the joint candidate of the National Conference and the PDP.

Hussain is from the predominantly Muslim Kargil district of the Ladakh region and seemed to have an edge. Kargil district had a 74 percent turnout.

(The writer is the author ofThe Story of Kashmir’ andThe Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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