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The Pulwama attack and the electoral politics

Nasir Ahmad Dar

This year is a very important year in the context of Indian Politics. It is a year of elections. On one hand we have general elections lining up in a few months and on the other hand we will be seeing assembly elections to be held in six other states which would be conducted by the Election Commission of India. These elections, especially the general elections, will play a pivotal role in shaping the path of the Indian democracy.

All of these elections are going to be intriguingly close and might see some firsts and some lasts in the history of the Republic of India just like the “Mahagathbandhan” which is first of its kind. The fever of these elections has been up now for many months. The elections took an interesting mode when after BJP lost three major states to INC and could not form the government in two other states.

The election campaigning was already up even before the attack on armed forced on 14th February 2019 in which an estimated 44 soldiers lost their lives while many were left injured. However this attack has taken the election scenario by storm and now the calculations about the possible winners and runner up has changed drastically. This happened because all political parties would try their best to gain maximum votes in the aftermath of one of the worst attack ever on the CRPF. The Fidayeen attack has triggered a mindless rage in the country and the consequences are still unfolding in front of our eyes.

After the attack, Jammu and many other parts of the country experience violence against Kashmiri students, businessmen as well as travelers. These events have now created a doubt over the possibility of conducting elections for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly which were scheduled to be held parallel to the general elections in the month of April this year.

This suicide attack has been estimated as the worst ever on the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir in decades and it is certainly going to have its impact on the upcoming general and assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover the break-up of a seemingly elusive alliance between PDP-BJP will also play a pivotal role going into these elections. This break-up saw some evident changes in various political faces and parties in the state. The PDP has been on the receiving end as it saw a massive shakeup which is threatening even its existence in the state as of now. The BJP has had a rough ride in 2018; it lost elections in 6 states and lost the government in Jammu and Kashmir thus adding to its misery. The worst part for BJP now is that Rahul Gandhi who is considered to be a man of straw has now grown immensely both on national as well as international level thus providing a slight hope for the people who have been looking for an alternative after the disastrous display by BJP at center and the states which it runs. However this attack has now changed the political scenario of India drastically and now the political fever has started to sway in its way. Since the attack happened in Pulwama there has been a stiff rise in the assaults towards Kashmiri people residing in other parts of the nation. There have been incidents of verbal assaults while as at some places reports have suggested that Kashmiris have been subject to physical violence as well. Some of them have been expelled from their colleges while as some have been asked to vacate their homes and close their businesses.

This piece analyses the up-coming assembly elections in J & K keeping in mind the twin factors of the Pulwama attack and the termination of the alliance between the BJP and the PDP. How will Pulwama and its violent aftermath change the electoral dynamics within the State? What changes can be anticipated in the rhetoric of the different parties? Who has benefitted from the break-up of the BJP-PDP alliance and how?

Over the last four years or so, the Indian state had been maintaining that the graph of militancy in Kashmir was gradually descending and that the anti-insurgency operations were a great success. But contrary to the claims, something of the pulwama suicide attack was brewing and even after having primary intelligence inputs, the security apparatus couldn’t avert the tragedy.

ECI has failed to conduct elections for the vacant seat of Anantnag for three years now and the security situation in the area has been so challenging that even after killing more than two hundred militants each year since the beginning of “operation All-Out” in 2017, the EC couldn’t find the situation conducive to hold elections.

However, the Pulwama attack has left some serious questions to be asked about the Indian security system running in Kashmir and also highlights the capacity of the militants in the valley who were earlier believed to be lacking the arms and ammunition to put up a fight of such sorts.

Meanwhile, the TV news hosts, immediately after the Pulwama attack, began demanding ‘revenge’ and set a war-like discourse rolling with war veterans deliberating upon guidelines to destroy Pakistan and inflict maximum damage. In 2016, the government had ordered surgical strikes on the terror launch pads across the border. These attacks were lauded so much that Bollywood produced a movie named ‘Uri’ in the honor of Indian Army and also the apparent strategic planning which made this attack a success. However the Army General who led these surgical strikes has claimed that these strikes were overhyped for mere political gains.

The present situation in India worst in many years because firstly the number of personnel killed is higher than 2016 and secondly people across different states of India have targeted the civilians of Kashmir and at some places they have been forced to go back home.

As a result of the jingoistic media hypertension, many states witnessed mindless violent incident targeting hundreds of Kashmiri Muslim families, their properties burnt and there have been raging voices asking for the expulsion of kashmirirs from Jammu city- the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state. The situation in Jammu became so grave that government had to implement curfew in the city to avoid further attacks on Kashmiri families. As much as the State chief of the BJP, Ravinder Raina, offered full support to the agitating students and was quoted as saying that “The NC, the PDP and the Congress have sympathy for anti-national forces. They have a soft corner for killers. Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are fed by India but their hearts throb for others”.

Amidst the heightened tensions across Indian states, the young students of Kashmir as well as businessmen from Kashmir who have their shops in other parts of India or run occasional stalls, there is a clear message that they have received this time and one may not be surprised if less students and less businessmen prefer to travel outside of the valley anymore.

However, the responsibility lies with the authorities to ensure that no such hate crimes and incidents of violence are directed towards innocent people of Kashmir anymore. The governments of various states must ensure the safety and security of people of Kashmir in their states and must punish those fringe elements that foment the trouble and create a mob frenzy in a matter of minutes.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir which is now under the governor’s rule after the break-up of BJP and PDP- a historic alliance in a way that it saw two entirely different set of parties come together to rule the state. The negotiations were more of a compromise than a coalition. The agenda of alliance was conceptualized by Ram Madhav of BJP and Haseeb Drabu of PDP and this was the basic cell in the construction of a great alliance. However this agenda of alliance did not work and the alliance broke down leaving PDP in shambles and BJP in the driver’s seat. The situation of PDP as of now is that its very existence is in threat and many of its prominent leaders have either left the party or been expelled from the party. They key members like Basharat Bukhari and Altaf Bukhari who were members of the cabinet and held important ministerial posts were expelled from the party for carrying out anti-party activities. The shia leaders like Imran Ansari and Abid Ansari have already resigned from the party alongwith some other members

It is a fact that seeking votes on the name of self-rule and autonomy are not going to win any votes for either PDP or NC in the forthcoming elections as people fear that all the tall promises made in the past regarding safeguarding of the special status and providing justice for the victims of human rights violations have failed. The abolition of laws like Armed Power Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) is also not going to fetch any votes as they have earlier met with no success while being in power. This holds true for both these parties because both of them have served in power alternatively for a decade and a half now. However they may call for settlement of issues between India and Pakistan which can build some strength in their claim to power in the valley.

BJP, on the other hand, is a party whose entire political motive is backed by the claim of Kashmir being an integral part of Indian Union. Their entire political campaign is mostly based on the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A scrapping the special status that the state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoys as of now. BJP has always sought a Uniform civil code for the entire nation with one rule, one ruler and one nation usually known as the slogan; Ek Nishan, Ek Vidhan aur Ek Pradhan (one constitution, one flag, and one sovereign head). The BJP also seeks more aggression against stone-pelters and militants in Kashmir valley. They are of the opinion that Kashmir is a sovereign matter of India and Pakistan is no stakeholder in this regard.

In the face of the happening here, the voting percentage may drastically drop in the forthcoming elections even if the some new players have jumped the fray including Shah Faesal, the IAS topper who resigned from government services and joined the mainstream politics.

As of now Peoples Conference chief, Sajad Gani Lone, has emerged as a potential chief ministerial candidate whose party is now after a few very influential political leaders joined him that led him to declare that his party would field candidates in all of the 87 seats.  At a time when PDP is struggling to survive and NC is also trying to gain the lost glory, Sajad Lone might emerge as a new face in Kashmir political given is flexibility and openness to join hands with whosoever would want to partner him in government formation.

The politics of Jammu and Kashmir is always a close call. There is always possibility of a coalition government. This time there seems to be no major changes in this regard. The BJP will be claiming Jammu region while as PDP and NC will try to focus on the Kashmir valley. Sajad Lone’s PC will try its best to grab as many seats as possible. He will be looking to form a pre-poll alliance and will surely be eyeing CM’s seat. His optimism is obvious due to the bleak chances of other local parties. However NC will look to win as many seats as possible in the valley and will certainly be eyeing a coalition with INC who on the other hand will try their best to win as many seats as possible from Jammu and Ladakh where BJP will certainly lose vote share unless and until Choudhary Lal Singh joins hands again. The game of elections is always interesting and in 2019 it is surely going to live up to the expectations but the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are surely the eye catchers and this time also people will be glued to see how the things turn out to be in the state.

The writer is a member of Youth Parliament of Jammu and can be mailed at: [email protected]

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