Naidu And Kumar's Pivotal NDA Roles Offer Hope For Kashmir

Amid record voter turnout, swift restoration of statehood and democracy is possible

Associated Press
kashmir after abrogation of article 370 (representative image) Photo: Associated Press

In a historic show of democratic engagement, the recent Lok Sabha elections witnessed an unprecedented voter turnout in the last 30 years or so, serving as a powerful testament to the people's collective sentiment against the events of August 5, 2019, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) abrogated Article 370, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, downgrading the state into a Union Territory, and breaking it into two: the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh.

The remarkable turnout was a clear demonstration of the public's desire to express their dissent. Despite the BJP's narrative that the surge in voter participation was due to their successful governance through Raj Bhawan, the ground reality indicated widespread disillusionment and frustration among the people. They came out in droves, not to endorse the BJP, but to register their opposition.

The BJP's strategy of painting their opponents as dynastic and corrupt fell flat, and their attempt to manipulate regional politics backfired spectacularly. The party's efforts to bolster support through alliances with regional players like Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference, and Ghulam Nabi Azad's Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) failed miserably. These alliances did not secure a single segment in either the Kashmir Valley or Jammu, highlighting the electorate's rejection of these proxy candidates and their agendas.

In stark contrast, the National Conference emerged as a significant force, capturing almost 35 segments in the Kashmir Valley alone. This sweeping success indicates a shift in political dynamics, with the NC dominating two-thirds of the seats. The overwhelming support for the NC is a clear message from the voters: they demand genuine representation and a return to the previous status and dignity.

While the National Conference did fairly well in central and south Kashmir, the results in north Kashmir were a setback and require deep introspection. One thing is clear: voters there were convinced that their vote would ensure the release of Engineer Rashid from Tihar Jail. The continuous raising of emotive slogans and the efforts of his children to connect with the masses, seeking votes for his release, resonated with the general public, especially women and youth who have been particularly affected post-2019. Faced with a choice between the NC and AIP, they chose the latter due to the strong emotional appeal. However, one thing is clear: the people rejected the BJP-supported parties not only in the north but also in the south and central regions.

The dissatisfaction and disillusionment are evident even in the Udhampur-Doda-Jammu-Reasi Parliamentary seat where its vote bank dropped between 5 and 10 per cent. The BJP faced troubling signs, trailing in two Hindu-dominated segments, Suchetgarh and RS Pura-Jammu South constituencies, and maintaining only narrow leads in four other seats traditionally considered strongholds. In contrast, the National Conference secured substantial leads across all seven Assembly constituencies in Rajouri and Poonch districts.

Similarly, resentment is evident in the Union Territory of Ladakh, which was separated from Jammu and Kashmir, where a former NC district president defeated the BJP.

Although the restoration of Article 370 by the current government seems unlikely, the election results underscore an inevitable truth—no political power is permanent. The decline in BJP's dominance opens a window of opportunity for other leaders within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to heed the people's voice. Influential figures like Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister to be N. Chandrababu Naidu and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, both strong regional leaders and key players in the NDA, must recognise the urgency of addressing the grievances of Jammu and Kashmir's populace.

The immediate need is for these leaders to advocate for the restoration of full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and the immediate conduct of state elections. The people have made it clear that their expectations from the BJP are minimal; however, there is hope that regional leaders within the NDA can step up. Naidu and Kumar have the political clout and moral responsibility to ensure that the rights and status unjustly stripped away from Kashmiris are reinstated.

The recent elections have set the stage for a potential political transformation in Jammu and Kashmir. The high voter turnout and the NC's success are indicators of a collective yearning for justice and self-governance. While the road ahead is fraught with challenges, the election results provide a glimmer of hope that the voices of the people of Jammu and Kashmir will eventually be heard and respected.

The Lok Sabha elections have revealed a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction and resistance against the BJP's policies in Jammu and Kashmir. The failure of BJP's proxies and the success of the National Conference highlight the electorate's desire for genuine representation and the restoration of their rights. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have spoken, and their message is unequivocal: they demand justice and respect for their rights.

(Tanvir Sadiq is the Chief Spokesperson and Communications Head of the J&K National Conference and a former advisor to CM Omar Abdullah.)

(Views expressed are personal)