9:06 am - Wednesday November 11, 2015

BJP’s Mission 44 in J&K fails; but party may be key player in next govt

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The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mission 44 in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has failed, but the party has established itself as a powerhouse in Jammu, relegating the Congress to second place. But the Congress has not been humbled in Jammu – as was widely feared.
The results and counting trends show that we are headed for a hung assembly in J&K, with the BJP and the PDP being the top two parties with more-or-less similar seats, and the National Conference (NC) and Congress being the runners up in the regional and national parties categories.
This means that the only viable coalition will be one between Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP, which will comfortably pass the halfway mark of 44 in an 87-member assembly. But a PDP-Congress coalition supported by some independents is also an arithmetic possibility. But it will be unstable.
How did we get this kind of result even though the BJP has emerged as the single-largest party in terms of vote share, with a 25 percent vote share? The PDP is next, and the NC and Congress below them.Two reasons can be adduced to the failure of BJP’s Mission 44.
One, the BJP’s shock emergence as the biggest party in J&K during the Lok Sabha polls, and its expressly stated ambition of becoming a majority party in J&K with it Mission 44 statement (based on high turnouts in Jammu and low ones in the Kashmir Valley) put all it rivals on edge. They worked hard to ensure that the mission is defeated by getting out the majority vote in the Kashmir valley. This is why we saw high turnouts in the Valley, despite muted calls for a boycott by the separatists. It is quite possible that the separatists held back their violence to enable the BJP to be stopped in its tracks.
Two, the National Conference-Congress break-up was critical to the blockade of the Modi wave in Jammu. By splitting up, the National Conference was able to concentrate its efforts in the Valley to stem the PDP’s surge, and the Congress was able to slow down the BJP in Jammu.
During the campaign, the BJP was accused of trying to be pro-Hindu in Jammu and “secular” in the Valley as it did not tom-tom its threat to abolish article 370. This may have cost it its Jammu base.
However, the results show that the National Conference and the Congress played the same card – of courting the Muslim vote in the valley (by NC) and the Hindu vote in Jammu by the Congress.
This divide-to-deny-victory to BJP strategy was what killed Mission 44.
So what lies ahead?
It is clear that a BJP-PDP coalition is the state’s best bet for a stable government as the parties comfortably cross the halfway mark.
This coalition would also have strong representation from both regions, the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, not to speak of Ladakh.
Other combinations are also possible, including a PDP-Congress-independents khichdi coalition. Such a coalition would be ideologically more compatible than a PDP-BJP one, but it would include several independents who may bring instability because some of their separatist leanings.
The betting should be on a PDP-BJP coalition as option 1, and a PDP-Congress-independents one as the next (but more emote) possibility.
The National Conference, of course, has no chance of forming a government, with or without Congress and independent support.
The BJP will be happy to join a J&K government. Not least because assemblies in J&K have a life of six years against the more normal five elsewhere.

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