Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Analyzing BJP Success in Jammu

Rekha dissects polling results in the Jammu region

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

Appearance and Reality

How does one interpret the massive victory of the BJP in the assembly elections of Jammu and Kashmir? Is it simply the communal polarisation of the Jammu region — a direct impact of the religious mobilisation during Amarnath land agitation? Certainly the BJP’s gain, from one seat in 2002 to eleven now — all in the Hindu-dominated belt of the region — has a reflection of the agitation, and yet the verdict is not as straight as it seems to be.

To begin with, the Hindu belt has not exclusively gone to the BJP; there are many significant exceptions where the party has lost. Of these, the most interesting is the case of Bishnah where it had fielded the widow of Kuldeep Verma, whose suicide during the agitation had generated an intense response in Jammu. It was this constituency which Gujarat CM Narender Modi had chosen to campaign for. This epicentre of the agitation could not be returned to the BJP. There were many other constituencies that had witnessed a strong emotional response during the agitation — such as, Kathua, Samba, Vijaypur and Akhnoor — that remained constantly in the news during the agitation, but did not return the BJP. Another constituency where the BJP faced a setback was Gandhi Nagar, the urban heartland of Jammu where Nirmal Singh, the erstwhile party president, was contesting. Nowshera, Billawar, Ramnagar, Udhampur, Chenani, Chhamb were the other constituencies which saw the mobilisation during the agitation but remained out of the BJP fold.

Interestingly, some of these seats have gone not only to the Congress and the local Panthers Party, but also to the National Conference — a party against which negative campaigns were launched in these areas, and the statement made by Omar Abdullah in Parliament was used to whip up frenzy against the Kashmiri leadership. That the impact of such campaigning had not gone deep could be seen soon after the election process began — the flags of the NC were all over the place.

Like the earlier times, one can see a plural political response in the Jammu region. The seats have been divided between the Congress, the NC, the BJP and the Panthers Party. It is difficult to see the communal polarisation, since the Muslim belt of the region has given as much of a plural response as the Hindu belt has. While in the two districts of Poonch and Rajouri the seats have been divided between the NC, the Congress and the PDP, in the Doda belt — comprising the three districts of Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban — it is the Congress which has registered its dominance, winning five of the six seats. The entry of the PDP is seen by many as an indication of the communalisation of the Muslim belt. Yet one cannot see Muslims in Rajouri and Poonch voting as a bloc for any party, divided as they are between the two identities — Gujjars and Paharis. Doda, meanwhile, is a story of development — it was the most backward and unattended area of the region, which was paid attention to by the Congress government, specifically by Ghulam Nabi Azad, who himself represented one of the constituencies within this belt.

If the BJP has succeeded in Jammu, it is not because of its communal agenda; it is because of many other factors, anti-incumbency working against the Congress being the most important one. The Congress faced problems also due to internal dissensions, wrong candidate choices, rebels and the lack of credible faces. Where it could field a credible candidate, as in Gandhi Nagar, it could win despite the BJP wave. It is a similar story of credible candidates in Kathua where an independent could win despite the constituency being a BJP stronghold.

On the whole, one can say that it was the vacuum of the regional politics that has helped the BJP. Jammu does not have a regional party parallel to the NC. (The Panthers Party is the only regional party of Jammu and it has succeeded in maintaining its position by retaining three of the four seats it had won in 2002.) Hence, the politics based upon the regional aspirations is appropriated by the BJP. The Amarnath agitation in many ways succeeded in Jammu because, apart from the Hindu sentiments, it could mobilise the dormant but persistent feeling in Jammu that this region is politically subordinated to Kashmir and is taken for granted when it comes to political negotiations with the Centre. It is therefore the regional rather than the communal response that has resulted in the BJP’s unprecedented victory.

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