Amit Shah's Bengal test lies in Kashmir

It could well be an early Christmas celebration for the BJP, in the best of 'Sabka Vikas' spirit. It could send out a message of peace and beauty amidst the snows of Kashmir. One that says that here is a vibrant democracy that has triumphed over the bloodshed of terrorists and the machinations of the divisive and cynical. The BJP is not talking of Article 370 anymore. If it forms the Government in J&K, as it well might, 370 may not matter either way.

Amit Shah's dare to Mamata in Bengal will see its real test in Kashmir polls. If BJP can break through the treacherous electoral terrain in the Kashmir Valley then its ability to penetrate Mamata's Bengal will receive a dramatic boost.

This dramatic result in J&K may be just days away, despite weak attempts to raise the bogey of ‘polarisation’ by soured National Conference and the Congress. Both are smarting from being roundly rejected by the electorate just six months ago. To make things worse, the Lok Sabha losers, having fallen out, are hurling invective at each other.

Meanwhile, the people of Jammu, Ladakh and the Kashmir Valley are getting ready to change gears and embrace Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rousing vision of  'Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas'. As the 71 per cent turnout in the first phase of voting on November 25 seems to suggest, the people in Kashmir Valley want change. This despite the usual calls for a boycott by separatists, and stepped-up Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks.

Prime Minister Modi and BJP Party President Amit Shah, palpably take this longing for change very seriously. This could be the tipping point; the moment when the problems of this beleaguered State begin to be solved. Modi remarked at a recent rally in Kashmir that he has visited J&K every single month of the six months that he has been Prime Minister. And Amit Shah is leaving no alliance, no organisational effort, no electoral tactic, untapped. The BJP’s Mission 44+ for J&K is no empty slogan.

Expert observers reckon that if the BJP only replicates its general election performance, it will be just a dozen seats short of a majority; at 45 seats in the 87 member Assembly. But, it could well do much better. Jammu and Ladakh together account for 41 seats. Extrapolating just the 33 seats from the mirror image of the earlier election, is in itself, quite exhilarating. BJP led in 30 out of 37 segments in Jammu, and three out of four in Ladakh the last time around. Could it win perhaps 38 or 39 of these seats now?

Much, after all, has happened since the general election results were announced on May 16. The magnitude of the victory, the initiatives already taken by the Modi Government, both nationally and internationally, and the possibilities it has opened up, are not lost on the people of J&K. They do not want to be isolated or left behind and the old dispensation has indeed let them down badly. And the Pakistanis have done nothing but stir up trouble.

Political ascendancy in J&K has tended to be a cosy 'family' affair right from 1947 and even more so after the Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of the Valley in the 1990s. Jammu and Ladakh, in the absence of alternatives, have always voted for Congress and Kashmir Valley went to either the Abdullah family's NC, or the Mufti Mohammed Saeed Clan's PDP.

This time, prospects are excellent for the BJP in Jammu and Ladakh. But it is determined to make a mark in the Kashmir Valley to dispel the myth of the so-called 'alienation' there. Amit Shah's organisation has been wooing many of the smaller parties that have had reasonable vote shares  in the last election, even if they lost, or won just 1 and up to 3 seats, in order to stitch together a post-poll alliance based on actual seat shares.

Having said that, PDP is widely expected to win several  of the 46 seats in the Kashmir Valley. But how many? A clear majority will probably elude it, even with some wins in Jammu and Ladakh. Some  Valley seats may go to the small parties, the rival NC, and even Congress, besides the BJP. Still, PDP could be a potential BJP post-poll ally, depending. There are echoes of the Maharashtra Assembly election in the prospect.

BJP is also conducting a drive to register as many of the approximately four lakh Kashmiri Pandits, mostly scattered outside J&K, to bolster the 126,000 currently on the electoral rolls. Pandits, potentially constitute 10 per cent of the electorate, in as many as eight Assembly segments in the Valley, and could make a dramatic difference to the final poll results.

After the first phase on November 25, the next round of voting is on December 2, and three more after that, on December 9, 14 and 20. The results will come out on December 23; well in time to segue into the celebration for BJP patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday on December 25.

Courtesy Niti Central



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