By Sourabh Harihar:
While the dust is still settling on recent elections in two states, the Election Commission has announced a five-phase election for the states of Jharkhand and Jammu-Kashmir. While the eastern counterpart, Bihar, has its own share of political drama, it is elections in the northernmost state of India that are grabbing headlines. In this light, it is essential to get some facts straight about the elections in J&K:
1. Unlike other states of India, members of the J&K assembly are elected for a six year term as opposed to the common five year format. This also means that the election cycle isn’t in sync with other national elections. However, this year it so happens that the elections are coming on the heels of national elections, which implies there could be greater influence of the general election results on certain regions.
2. The main parties in the ring are the regional incumbent National Conference (NC) led by Omar Abdullah, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Mehbooba Mufti, while the Congress and the BJP are the national ones. In the recent past, NC has been in power for 3 full-terms, while the PDP and the Congress have enjoyed little, each having shared 3 years in power from 2002-08. The BJP has never been significant (despite considerable support in Jammu) because of its communal perception and its inability to make inroads in the Muslim-majority Kashmir.
3. J&K is roughly divided into its three major geographic zones, Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir valley. But, in the assembly consisting of 87 seats, the more populous Kashmir region bags 46, Jammu 37 and Ladakh only 3 seats. In this context, it is often observed that the party which wins in the valley usually forms the government. The only scenario of that not happening is if one party sweeps the Jammu region whilst having a fragmented mandate in the valley, though this has hardly ever been the case. However, this suggests that for victory, the Kashmir-centric parties (NC and the PDP) will have to fight it out for a distinctive majority, while the BJP will have to aim for a clean-sweep in Jammu.
4. In the past 3 elections (1996, 2002, 2008), J&K has always given an anti-incumbency mandate. Although the current political situation is far from predictable, one may fairly say that the scales are generally tipped towards the opposition, whomsoever it may be. The People’s Democratic Party and the Congress in the valley and the BJP in the Jammu region do enjoy an anti-incumbency advantage.
Politics in J&K has in the past often revolved around the politically sensitive masla-e-kashmir, or the Kashmir issue. Although it still continues to draw public sentiment, other issues such as basic necessities, civic infrastructure and army presence are becoming very much a part of the debate. It will be interesting to see how parties use each of these issues to score political mileage as the election drama unfolds in the upcoming 2 months.