Why the BJP could emerge as the majority partner in the future J&K coalition government
On June 17, a resolution passed by the J&K BJP following a day-long meeting of its working committee in Jammu resolved to carry forward the “momentum of the Parliamentary polls and work tirelessly to form the next government in the state on its own.”
The meeting, chaired by its state president Ravinder Raina. was significantly also attended by the senior BJP leader and the minister of state in Prime Minister's Office Dr Jitendra Singh. The leaders discussed a gamut of contentious issues that could well become its campaign planks in the Assembly polls likely to be held later this year. The party sought fresh delimitation in the state which it hopes will enhance the number of seats in Assembly for Hindu majority Jammu province, empowering it further relative to Muslim majority Kashmir Valley. It also bid for de-freezing of one-third of 24 Assembly seats reserved for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and alloting these to Jammu region where displaced PoK residents are settled since 1947-48. The party also demanded "political reservation" for the scheduled tribes, most of whom are settled in Jammu and harped on the staple issue of discrimination with Jammu and Ladakh during the rule of Kashmir-based parties like National Conference and the PDP.
The party's confidence isn't misplaced. Despite being an incumbent party in the previous state government, the party not only repeated its performance in the recent parliament polls, winning three out of six seats but also enhanced its vote share to 46 percent, up from 32 percent in Assembly polls. What is more, in these three seats the party gained lead in 28 Assembly constituencies, three more from the last Assembly polls.
In Kashmir province too, where it lost three Lok Sabha seats to the NC, the BJP gained lead in Tral Assembly constituency, a militancy hotbed and the hometown of slain militant commanders Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa. The reason for this is that while the local people boycotted election in response to separatist call, the constituency's Hindu residents living in other parts of the country voted for the BJP.
This state of affairs lends the BJP's apparently overreaching bid to form a government in a Muslim majority state a degree of credibility - albeit, the demographics do not seem to warrant it. According to 2011 census, Muslims constitute 68.3 percent of J&K's population, Hindus 30 percent, Sikhs 2 percent, and Buddhists, a little more than 1 percent.
The demographics of the majority of the Assembly constituencies also favours the majority community: all 47 constituencies of Kashmir Valley are Muslim dominated. Similarly Muslims are in majority in around 17 of 37 constituencies of Jammu and in the two of the four in Ladakh.
But this is where the political engineering enters the picture. The BJP has a multi-pronged strategy to ensure there is Hindu consolidation in Jammu in its favour. It has already benefitted from this consolidation in three successive elections since 2014 - two parliament and one Assembly. In 2015 state election, the party won 25 of 37 seats in Jammu, enabling it to share power with the PDP which secured 28 seats, a predominant majority of these in Kashmir Valley .
The BJP is likely to only better its tally in Jammu as indicated by its performance in general elections. In Kashmir Valley, the party banks on the boycott factor as also on the local ethnic and sectarian divisions to give it a windfall of a few seats. And if its recent lead in Tral constituency is anything to go by, this is not an unlikely proposition. For example, Habba Kadal constituency in the heart of Srinagar has around 15000 migrant Kashmiri Pandit votes. If the local voters boycott the election as looks very likely, the BJP could very well win the seat.
BJP’s another target is Ladakh with just four seats, two of them Buddhist majority and two Muslim dominated. The party won the lone parliament seat from the area after Buddhist vote consolidated in its favour and the Muslim votes got split between two opposition candidates.
Repeating the history
Will the party be able to replicate the performance of Lok Sabha polls in Assembly election? Very likely. In fact, in J&K, the BJP doing well in the state polls has become a forgone conclusion.
"There's already a consolidation of Hindus and Buddhists in Jammu and Ladakh respectively in support of the BJP. So, the party in all likelihood will sweep Jammu and bag at least two seats in Ladakh," says Naseer Ahmad, a columnist. "As for as Kashmir Valley is concerned, the BJP has every chance to benefit from the election boycott".
In practice, if the BJP sustains current support base until Assembly polls, the party could win 28 of 37 seats in Jammu province, two of the four in Ladakh and a couple or more of 46 seats in Kashmir Valley. This could take the number of seats bagged by the party in 87 member Assembly upwards of 30.
On the other hand, the 46 seats in Kashmir Valley are likely to be divided among the NC, PDP, Congress, the People's Conference and smaller players like the People's United Front led by Shah Faesal and Engineer Rashid. This could effectively make the BJP the largest single party and put it in a position to be a majority partner in a coalition with a Kashmir based party. The party will thus be entitled to have its own Chief Minister for the state, preferably a Hindu.