What is determining J&K polls in 2019?

Optimists point to the peaceful voting in first of the five-phased polling in Jammu and Kashmir for two out of the six Lok Sabha seats as a sign that this would send a trend for better voting percentages in the following phases, when the sensitive constituencies like Srinagar and Anantnag go to polls.

Pessimists, some would say realists, believe that north Kashmir has not done anything different than the past. It has always recorded better voting percentage in the previous elections as and when the comparison is done with south and central Kashmir. It remains to be seen whether nearly 35 per cent of the polling percentage is maintained in Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies that go to polls on April 18 and May 6 respectively. Already the south Kashmir constituency of four districts has been spread over to three phases- beginning with the 3rd and ending with firth.

There is a lot of ambiguity over the whole process. But it is the time to look for positives. Governor Satya Pal Malik has kept his promise of holding the peaceful polling in the state, and it was not that the north Kashmir had always as peaceful as it was during the first phase of polling on April 11.

But that is just the beginning of the test for the coming phases. And, while the polling percentage and other relative factors are taken into account  for what happens in the Kashmir Valley, it should also be recorded that Jammu-Poonch constituency recorded over 72 percent polling that is a record in itself.

This critical part cannot be taken out of the overall polling, for the calculations are meant for the whole state and not  a particular part of it.

This is important for drawing the holistic picture of the state, otherwise also to separate the Valley constituencies from Jammu region would be setting a wrong precedent. That would deepen already existing fissures between the two important regions in the state where politics has been  brushed with communal paint.

In Jammu and Kashmir  the elections  whether that of the Parliament, Assembly, Municipalities or Panchayats  are measured with different yardsticks  than rest of the country. These are particularly sensitive times  and any  attempt to rush to the conclusions would not only be premature, but also pre-empting the narrative that is bound to emerge after the elections are over.

This time Jammu is plagued by a narrative in which  Indian nationalism is seen clashing with the Kashmiri nationalism. This is a raw nerve of the people of Jammu that  the parties have put their hands on Jammu represents an ethos of the Indian culture where not only the opinion  but also a strong feeling is embedded among the people that their fate is interlinked to India forever.

They reject all other options that Kashmiri politicians and people  often threaten to  explore or hope to capitalise future. It is the make up of the disillusionment that makes them to think so. There is a huge disillusionment with the system. They think it is genuine, others dismiss it as crafted.

The mistake that is quite often made with regard to elections in the Valley is that this democratic exercise is seen as endorsement of the Indian democracy in letter and spirit. The real dimensions lie somewhere else. Of course, the democratic exercise is primarily to choose their representatives who could air their grievances and help them in getting good governance. But in this election, like it was in 2014, the fear factor also determines the choice of the parties and candidates.

Even when the people in the Valley have their reservations about the leaders of the regional parties National Conference and People’s Democratic Party for these groups and their leaders have fallen far short of their expectations, yet they are preferred when it comes to us versus they narration.

During the parliamentary and Assembly elections in 2014, the mandate  was neither for PDP nor NC, but the groups that they hoped could prevail over and resist the saffron party. They were determined to do so  particularly after they witnessed that  Ladakh and Jammu had voted for the BJP candidates in the parliamentary election. That saffron wave they wanted to resist and had given  majority of seats to PDP, followed by NC.

In 2019, they have the experience of the past five years and also a feeling of betrayal that how their own representatives had entered into compromise with the saffron party to form the government.

This alliance has weighed quite heavily on them. That is what is the main theme that they nurture while  queuing up before the polling booths or staying away from them. That is the real factor that both optimists and pessimists weigh while looking at the election patterns.