All in all, it can be said that the BJP could replicate 2014 in 2019 in Jammu and Ladakh and it will be a vote for PM Narendra Modi.
That the BJP is all set to repeat its 2014 performance in Jammu province in 2019 and the Congress destined to come out of the just-held electoral exercise minus everything is a foregone conclusion. This, notwithstanding the fact that the people of Jammu and Ladakh were unhappy with the BJP because of its unholy alliance with the pro-self-rule, pro-Pakistan and pro-separatist People’s Democratic Party and its utter failure to deliver and meet the aspirations of the people of these two regions. The National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) also supported the Congress candidates in Jammu. Jammu has two parliamentary constituencies – Jammu-Poonch and Kathua-Udhampur. Jammu-Poonch voted on April 11 and Kathua-Udhampur on April 18. The BJP had won both these seats in 2014. It had won the Jammu seat with a huge margin of 2.2 lakh votes and Kathua-Udhampur seat by over 60,000 votes. Jugal Kishor Sharma won the Jammu seat by defeating a former Cabinet Minister and senior Congress leader Madan Lal Sharma and Jitendra Singh won Kathua defeating Congress heavyweight Ghulam Nabi Azad (presently Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha). Singh was made MoS in PMO.
A prominent Buddhist leader and social worker Thukjey Dolma quit the Congress and joined the BJP
The BJP again fielded Jugal Kishore Sharma and Jitendra Singh from these two highly strategic Lok Sabha constituencies in 2019. The Congress fielded former minister Raman Bhalla against Sharma and Dr Karan Singh’s son Vikramaditya Singh against Jitendra Singh.
If one goes by the mood of the Jammu voters, the victory margin in Jammu-Poonch parliamentary constituency this time could be over 3 lakh and in Kathua-Udhampur, it could be nearly one lakh. There was complete polarization in the province and all the Hindu-majority areas recorded an all-time high voter turnout, between 72% and 80%. Four factors were responsible for very high voter turnout: the Modi phenomenon; the BJP’s April 8 solemn commitment that it, if voted to power, will abrogate Article 35A and Article 370 and deport Rohingyas; and the hate and break-India politics and politics of autonomy, self-rule and Pakistan, which was being indulged in a most brazen manner by the NC and the PDP and supported to the hilt by the Congress.
What about Ladakh, which returns to the Lok Sabha one member and will vote on May 6? In 2014, the BJP had created a history of sorts by winning the Ladakh seat for the first time, of course, with a slender margin of 36 votes. Thupstan Chhewang, a top Buddhist leader and son-in-law of Queen of Ladakh, Rani Parvati, had won the seat defeating the Congress’ candidate, T Samphel, another prominent Buddhist leader.
On November 15, 2018, Chhewang resigned from both the primary membership of the BJP and Lok Sabha, saying that the “BJP had let down the people of Ladakh by not fulfilling its two main commitments — Union Territory status to the region and inclusion of Bhoti language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution”. His resignation was rightly considered a major set back to the BJP. The BJP leadership tried its best to bring him back to the party fold, but with no result. It was then believed, and rightly, that the resignation of Thupstan would mar its poll prospects in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh.
However, things changed dramatically in favour of the BJP on December 15, 2018, and February 2, 2019. On December 15, the Governor administration ordered the establishment of separate University of Ladakh to meet the age-old demand of the Ladakhis, especially Buddhists. The order ended the 70-year-old domination of Kashmir over the educational system in Ladakh and directly helped over 18,000 Ladakhi students studying in Jammu, Chandigarh and elsewhere in the country, including Delhi. On February 2, the Governor administration took another landmark decision. It de-linked Ladakh from Kashmir province and granted divisional status to it, much to the chagrin of Kashmiri leaders of all hues. It ended the 71-year-old administrative control of Kashmir over the Cold-desert Ladakh and reduced the land area of Kashmir province by a whopping 59,146 sq km.
Both these steps were enough to improve the poll prospects of the BJP in Ladakh as the people in Ladakh took these decisions to mean the Prime Minister Narendra Modi Government’s “two big gifts”. Jammu & Kashmir has been under Central Rule since June 19, 2018. Emboldened, the BJP has fielded Jamyang Tsering Namgyal (BJP) from the constituency. Namgyal is Chief Executive Councilor (CEC)-cum-Chairman of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh. Namgyal’s campaign has been ably backed by almost Jammu & Kashmir BJP leaders. They have been camping and campaigning in Leh and Kargil after the completion of the electoral process in Jammu and Udhampur constituencies. Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, who had joined Namgyal in filing nomination papers in Leh, again reached Ladakh on April 29 on a two day. He will address four rallies. Union Minister of State in PMO, Jitendra Singh, too has addressed rallies for Namgyal while more Central leaders, including Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, are scheduled to campaign in the constituency.
Three more additional factors have improved the poll prospects of the BJP candidate. One, the over 95% Buddhist-majority Zanskar in the Shiite-majority Kargil district has resolved to vote en-block for the BJP candidate. Though part of Kargil, Zanskar always identifies itself with Leh and supports the demand in Leh for Union Territory status. Two, on April 23, a prominent Buddhist leader and social worker Thukjey Dolma quit the Congress and joined the BJP. He wields considerable influence in Nubra Valley, a tehsil of Leh district, which houses 85% Buddhist population. Three, a prominent Shia leader from Kargil and former Congress MLA and CEC of Kargil Autonomous Hill Council revolted against the high command and filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate ignoring all the pleas of the Congress leadership.
Anything can happen in Kashmir. It’s all between the NC, the PDP, the Congress and the PC. One has to wait till May 23, when the election results will be out.
There are four candidates in the fray. They are Namgyal of BJP, 2-time CEC, Leh Autonomous Council, Rigzin Spalbar (Congress), Sajjad Kargili and Haji Asgar Ali Karbalaie (both Independents). Namgyal and Spalbar are Buddhists and both belong to Leh district. Sajjad Kargili and Haji Asgar Ali Karbalaie are Shiite Muslims and both hail from Kargil district. While Sajad Kargili is being supported by an influential Islamia School Kargil and the NC and the PDP, Karbalaie enjoys the support of an equally influential religious organization, Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, Kargil. All the four candidates are contesting the Lok Sabha election for the first time.
In the 2014 election, two Buddhist candidates (BJP’s Thupstan Chhewang and Congress’ T Samphal) had got a majority of votes from Leh district and two Muslim candidates, Ghulam Raza and Syed Mohammad Qazim, both Independents and hailing from Kargil, had secured most of the votes from Kargil district. The 2014 election was a highly polarized election and the story of the 2019 polls in Ladakh will be no different this time as well. It’s Leh Vs Kargil and, unfortunately, it’s also Buddhist Vs Shiite Muslims. The reason is that while the entire population of Leh district and 95% Buddhist-dominated Zanskar are ardent believers in the concept of Union Territory or New Delhi’s direct rule, Shiite Muslims in Kargil oppose the demand tooth and nail.
As for the tiny Kashmir Valley and the BJP’s poll prospects, less said the better. In 2014, the BJP fielded its candidates in all the three Lok Sabha constituencies – Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag – and got only about 50,000 votes out of a total number of over 35 lakh registered voters. All its candidates forfeited their security deposit. The fate of the BJP candidates could be the same this time also considering the demographic profile of the Kashmir province. People of Baramulla and Srinagar voted on April 11 and 18, respectively. The electoral process in Anantnag will be over on May 6. Anantnag constituency is the only constituency in the country where the election will be held in three phases. Two phases were over on April 23 and April 29. Kashmir Valley witnessed the lowest-ever voter turn out: 14.1% in Srinagar, 34.9% in Baramulla and almost 12% in Anantnag so far.
All in all, it can be said that the BJP could replicate 2014 in 2019 in Jammu and Ladakh and it will be a vote for PM Narendra Modi. As for Kashmir, it’s very difficult to say anything. The low voter turnout in Anantnag could spoil the chances of Mehbooba Mufti, former CM, and help the Congress candidate and JKPCC chief, GA Mir. The low voter turn out in Baramulla could upset the NC’s apple-cart and help the People’s Conference (PC) of Sajad Lone spring a big surprise. In Srinagar, the low-voter turnout could help Farooq Abdullah of the NC and hurt the PDP. Anything can happen in Kashmir. It’s all between the NC, the PDP, the Congress and the PC. One has to wait till May 23, when the election results will be out.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.