ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Understanding the Paradoxical Outcome in Jammu and Kashmir

In spite of boycott calls following the Amarnath agitation of mid-2008, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly election saw a large voter turnout. This article examines whether this turnout can be said to indicate a substantial reduction in political alienation and a decline in sympathy for separatist politics in the Valley. It also analyses whether the National Conference- Congress government reflects the true will of the people because it keeps out the two parties that gained the most in the election, the People's Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200931Understanding the Paradoxical Outcome in Jammu and KashmirEllora PuriIn spite of boycott calls following the Amarnath agitation of mid-2008, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly election saw a large voter turnout. This article examines whether this turnout can be said to indicate a substantial reduction in political alienation and a decline in sympathy for separatist politics in the Valley. It also analyses whether the National Conference-Congress government reflects the true will of the people because it keeps out the two parties that gained the most in the election, the People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party.This article seeks to explain the two main surprises that the 2008 Jammu and Kashmir assembly election sprung: one, a high turnout of voters, and two, a government by the National Confer-ence and the Congress. They can be seen as two paradoxes: a paradox of participation and a paradox of outcome. While a sense of surprise was shared by many commentators in the wake of the election, an explanation requires empirical grounding. This study attempts to do so in the light of aggregate data on the election outcome and evidence gathered in a post-poll survey conducted in the state by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi.1The first paradox, the paradox of par-ticipation, was a result of the disjunction between the expected and the actual turn-out in the election. In the period immedi-ately before the election, the state witnessed widespread protests and violence which caught both analysts and political parties of all hues, separatist and mainstream,2 by surprise. Until then it was commonly accepted that mainstream politics had come to stay in the state because of the wider political space that had been generated by the 2002 election, the “comprehensive”3 peace process undertaken by the Indian government, and the subtle disengagement of Pakistan from the Kashmiri separatist cause. However, from June 2008, there were large-scale protest demonstrations across the state, even in the Jammu region, following a row over the Amarnath land issue. In view of this, the Election Com-mission’s announcement of the assembly election in November was seen as hasty and foolhardy by many. Despite apprehen-sions, a large number of people turned out to vote in the first phase itself. Eventually, the election had a level of popular par-ticipation higher than any witnessed since the rise of militancy in the state. This paradox, therefore, poses the ques-tions: do the agitational and the electoral represent two kinds of political activity engaged in by two different sections of society in the state? Or has there been a triumph of the system over deep-seated political alienation in the state, especially the Kashmir region?The second paradox relates to the ap-parent disconnect between the electoral fortunes of different parties in terms of popular vote on the one hand and the abil-ity to form a government on the other. Overall, in this election, the major gainers were the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the former getting five extra seats and the latter 10. While the National Conference (NC) retained 28 seats, the Congress lost three seats. Yet the parties that gained the most did not have much say in forming a government. It was the NC and the Congress that came together to form the government. Is this paradox indicative of something more than the vagaries of government formation in a fractured assembly? Does the post-poll coalition reflect the political aspirations of the voters of the two parties? Does, contrary to the popular impression, the ruling alliance reflect the popular will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?Explaining the ParadoxOfficially, the turnout was 61.23%, the highest in the state in the last 20 years. What made this figure very important was that there were no serious doubts cast over its authenticity, unlike in many other elections in the state. In terms of the intensity of political competition, this election was probably the most vibrant of all held so far. A record number of 1,354 candidates, including 67 women and many independents, contested it while the number of parties in the fray went up. The BJP decided to field candi-dates in the Valley for the first time and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested 83 of the 87 seats.4 The turnout of voters region-wise (Table 1) shows that the highest propor-tion of people voted in Jammu (71.6%), followed by Ladakh (67.9%) and then Kashmir (51.5%). Compared to the 2002 election, it represented an impressive gain of 15.7% in the Jammu region and an extra-ordinary rise of 21.9% in the Kashmir region. This jump in turnout in the Valley despite boycott calls by separatist groups, the cold Ellora Puri ( teaches in Political Science at the University of Jammu.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly32weather and the agitation over the Amar-nath issue was very important. In the Kashmir region, Kupwara had the highest turnout and Srinagar district the lowest. Calls to boycott the election had only a marginal effect in Kupwara district because it has a large non-Kashmiri speak-ing population. In Kulgam and Anantnag, the turnout jumped up by nearly 40 per-centage points. Historically, Srinagar has had a lower turnout because of various reasons, which again played out in this election. One, like many other urban districts in India, the turnout tends to be lower than in rural areas; two, the district is the main area where political mobilisation for the separatist cause has taken place; and three, boycott calls have more effect be-cause almost all the separatist movements are based here and they have pockets of influence across the district. Despite this, the turnout in Srinagar went up from just 5% in 2002 to more than 21% this time. Unlike Kashmir, the Jammu region did not witness a very high rise in turnout and the average increase was about 15 points. An analysis of the social profile of vot-ers and non-voters (Table 2) shows that divisions in the Jammu region are not that sharp: the proportion of voters and non-voters did not vary much across age, class, religion and gender. However, in the Kashmir Valley, more voted from among the young and the more educated. In the Valley, those above the age of 45 voted substantially less than the youth. The post-poll survey showed a direct correla-tion between turnout and education in the Valley: the higher the education, the greater the likelihood of having voted. The survey also supported media reports that higher voting figures did not reflect coercion; instead they had to do with the intensity of political competition and greater credibility of the electoral process. The proportion of those who reported some form of coercion was below 2%, while less than 3% said that the elections witnessed “large-scale” rigging. As many as 56% of the respondents reported a visit by a party worker, 22% reported participa-tion in an election meeting and 17% in an election rally. These figures match those from most other Indian states. The aggregate and survey data indicate that no single reason can explain the large increase in voter participation. We need to look for explanations in factors such as a higher trust in the electoral process, greater intensity of the competition and a deeper concern for the outcome. The real impor-tant question is whether the higher turn-out can be said to indicate a substantial reduction in political alienation and sym-pathy for separatist politics in the Valley.The survey’s evidence does not support such an inference. When asked why they did not vote, nearly half the non-voters in the Valley gave reasons that reflected their political alienation: not interested in elec-tions, do not believe in elections or wanted to boycott this election. Clearly the political process has a long way to go in the Kashmir Valley. Interestingly, only 11% of those who did not vote in the Valley said that there was “large-scale rigging” in the election.Political alienation was not confined only to those who did not vote. Although the people effectively rejected the elec-tion boycott call by the Hurriyat, they did not express hostility to the alliance’s stand when questioned about it. Of those who had heard about the Hurriyat’s call in the Valley, a majority approved of it. Obviously the proportion was higher among those who did not vote, but even among those who voted, 54% said the Hurriyat was justified in calling for an election boycott (Table 3). Kashmiris seem to be making a distinc-tion between two spheres: the sphere of routine governance and development on the one hand, and that of resolution of the Kashmir issue on the other. When asked which party would be best for the overall development of the state, they reposed trust in one of the mainstream parties. The Hurriyat was preferred only by 17% of the respondents in the Valley as against 67% for the four big political parties. In con-trast, asked which party was most suited to solving the Kashmir issue, the Hurriyat was picked by 63% in the Valley as against 20% for all mainstream parties. It is crucial to note that there was no difference bet-ween voters and non-voters in Kashmir on this question (Tables 4 and 5, (p 33)).This point is reinforced if we analyse the popular response to the preferred solution of the Kashmir problem. There were few takers in the Valley to the idea of Kashmir remaining in India in the present condition or joining Pakistan. The most preferred option was an independent Table 1: Turnout in Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir by Regions and Districts (2002 and 2008)Region/District Turnout (%) Change 2002-08 20082002(%Points)Kashmir 51.529.621.9Kupwara 48.137.610.5Bandipur 59.847.312.5Ganderbal 55.142.312.8Srinagar 62.446.016.4Pulwama 46.121.924.2Shopian 50.627.623.1Kulgam 64.426.937.5Anantnag 67.9 72.9* *Leh 62.7 na* *Kargil 72.9 75.9 -3.0Jammu 71.655.915.7Kishtwar 73.255.717.5Doda 68.354.813.4Ramban 65.450.015.4Reasi 75.059.915.2Udhampur 63.560.13.4Kathua 69.861.28.6Samba 78.061.816.3Jammu 72.856.616.3Rajouri 72.844.028.8Poonch 74.953.920.9Jammu and Kashmir 61.3 43.1* 18.3* Elections to the two constituencies of Leh district in Ladakh region were uncontested in 2002. Therefore, the turnout figures for the region and the state for 2002 exclude these constituencies while the figures for 2008 include these constituencies. Source: Constituency-wise figures from the Election Commission of India web site, analysed by the CSDS Data Unit.Table 2: Social Profile of Voters and Non-Voters in Kashmir and Jammu Regions JammuKashmir Voters Non-voters VotersNon-votersUp to 25 years 71 29 38 6226-45 years 80 20 37 6446-55 years 82 18 31 69Above 55 years 78 22 29 71Non-literate 77232872Primary 81193961Secondary 78223862Graduate 77234159Figures here are for the percentage of respondents in each category who reported that they had voted and whose voting could be confirmed by the mark on their finger. The raw figures in the survey have been weighed by actual turnout figures obtained from the Election Commission.Source: Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections, 2008, Post-poll survey, CSDS.Table 3: Opinion on the Hurriyat’s Boycott of the Election in Kashmir Region JustifiedUnjustifiedVoters 5415Non-voters 6512All figures in percentage; Rest had no opinion.Source: Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Election Study 2008, CSDS, Delhi.The question asked was: “Would you say that the Hurriyat’s decision not to participate in this election was justified or unjustified?”
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200933nation-state comprising both parts of the state. As on responses to the Hurriyat, there was no basic difference between voters and non-voters on this question. If anything, non-voters were more likely to support the demand for azadi in the sense of an independent country. To understand the complex politics of the Kashmir region, therefore, we must avoid two fallacies. A success like the recent assembly election does not mean that political alienation and separatist senti-ment have disappeared. At the same time, perceiving the slogan of azadi as anti-India is simplistic. The sentiment that the term invokes is very amorphous in nature. Defi-nitions differ according to the context. Broadly it is an expression of the people’s desire to determine their own future. So a demand for a long-term solution of the Kashmir problem through their “own will” does not preclude the desire for better governance, again through their “own will”. Solving the Kashmir problem was not on the agenda in the 2002 or 2008 elections. The issues on the forefront were mostly developmental in nature. In this election, mainstream leaders like the NC’s Omar Abdullah, who subsequently became the chief minister, said that they were not fighting the poll for solving the Kashmir problem, but for helping people to deal with their day-to-day problems of “roti andkapda”. The separatist leadership also conceded this when leaders like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Sajjad Lone said that their camp needed to introspect and reflect on the significance of the large voter turnout, adding that they had to take into account the people’s need to deal with their more mundane immediate concerns. Very signifi-cantly, unlike earlier elections, 2008 saw a complete absence of – threatened or real – militancy-related violence in the state. Analysing the ParadoxEven though thePDP and the BJP were the main gainers in this election, neither endedup being part of the government. Though seemingly surprising, this was a direct consequence of regional and com-munity-based divisions in the state, which had been sharpened by the Amarnath Yatra controversy. The controversy arose over the transfer of land to the Shri Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board for housing devotees during the pil-grimage period. Kashmiris perceived this to be a ploy to hand over land permanently to outsiders as well as change the demogra-phy of the Muslim-majority state. The re-sult was large-scale protests in the Valley, which led the coalition government to withdraw the order. This in turn elicited a reaction in the Jammu region, where the revocation was seen as a capitulation to Kashmiri sentiments. Internal regional and religious5 differences thus came to fore in the guise of protests over the Amarnath is-sue. In the Jammu region, which has long nursed feelings of neglect and discrimina-tion, it acquired communal overtones because the issue was religious and the agi-tation was started by the Sangharsh Samiti supported primarily by the Sangh parivar. A call was issued by some members of the Sangharsh Samiti to blockade the Jammu-Srinagar highway and this precipitated an unprecedented reaction in the Kashmir Val-ley. The number of people who came out on the streets to protest against the call was, according to many observers, as high, if not higher, than during the 1989-90 agitation. The slogans raised were primarily for azadi.Table 6 offers an analysis of the outcome of the election in terms of seats won and the share of votes for all the major parties in the state as a whole and in the three ma-jor regions. It also provides figures for gain or loss of seats and change in vote share in all the regions. The PDP and the BJP were able to capitalise on the sentiments – regional as well as religious – whipped up during the Amarnath agitation. While the PDP’s main base is the Kashmir Valley, the BJP is a major player in the Hindu-majority areas of the Jammu region. The soft- separatist agenda put forth by the PDP, Table 4: Political Formation Best Suited for the Development of Jammu and Kashmir by Regions CongressPDPNCHurriyatBJPAll 2415176 9Kashmir region 13 36 17 17 –Jammu region 30 3 17 – 14All figures in percentage. Rest had no opinion.Source: Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Election Study 2008, CSDS, Delhi.Question: “Now I would like you to compare the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir – Congress , BJP, PDP, National Conference and Hurriyat Conference. In your opinion, which among the five is best for development of Jammu and Kashmir?”Table 5: Party Best Suited for Solving the Jammu and Kashmir Issue CongressPDPNCHurriyatBJPAll 145 11239Kashmir region 2 10 8 63 -Jammu region 22 2 13 1 13Rural 15512228Urban 127 8 2910Men 145 1226 10Women 15510207Illiterate 9613195Up to matriculation 15 5 12 20 11College educated 15 6 10 30 11Rest had no opinionSource: Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Election Study 2008, CSDS, Delhi.Question: “Now I would like you to compare the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir – Congress, BJP, PDP, National Conference and Hurriyat Conference. In your opinion, which among the five is best for solving the problem in Jammu and Kashmir?”Table 6: Assembly Election in Jammu and Kashmir, 2002-08 – Comparison of Seats Won and Vote Share of Major Parties by Region State/Region JammuandKashmirLadakhJammu KashmirTotal Seats 85 46 2 37Congress Seats won 16 3 0 13 Seatchange –4 –2 0 –2 Vote(%) 17.4 10.5 9.8 23 Votechange –6.9 –3.9 4.2 –6.8BJP Seats won 11 0 0 11 Seatchange 10 0 0 10 Vote(%) 12.6 1.0 1.2 22.0 Votechange 4 –0.7 0.8 9.7JKNC Seats won 28 20 2 6 Seatchange 0 2 1 –3 Vote(%) 23.3 27.5 51.4 19.3 Votechange –4.9 –8.1 6.8 –4.6PDP Seatswon 21 19 0 2 Seatchange 5 3 0 2 Vote(%) 15.5 27.6 0.5 6.5 Votechange 6.2 2.3 0.5 4.7Independents Seats won 3 1 0 2 Seatchange –8 –3 –1 –4 Vote(%) 16.3 17.2 34.2 15.1 Votechange 0.2 1.7 –15.2 –0.6Other parties Seats won 6 3 0 3 Seatchange –3 0 0 –3 Vote(%) 14.9 16.3 2.9 14.1 Votechange 1.7 8.7 2.9 –2.3Source: CSDS Data Unit, based on the final figures released by the Election Commission of India.Table 7: Political Formation Best Suited for Peaceful Relations between the Jammu and Kashmir Regions CongressPDPNCHurriyatBJPAll 1915187 9Kashmir 7 352019-Jammu 27317-14All figures in percentage. Rest had no opinion.Source: Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Election Study 2008, CSDS, Delhi.Question: “Now I would like you to compare the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir – Congress , BJP, PDP, National Conference and Hurriyat Conference. In your opinion, which among the five is best for peaceful relations between Jammu and Kashmir?”
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly34along with support of the Jamaat-e-Islami cadre, won it more seats in the Kashmir region. It emerged as the highest vote get-ter in the Valley and added three seats to its kitty. The party also expanded its reach to Poonch and Rajouri districts, the Mus-lim-dominated areas in the Jammu re-gion. The BJP, which had suffered a hu-miliating defeat in the last election, in-creased its vote share by nearly 10% in the Jammu region. It did not win any seats or gain votes outside the Hindu-ma-jority areas of Jammu, where it cashed in on the sentiments built up during the Am-arnath agitation. Its main rival, the Con-gress, did not field strong candidates in many constituencies. Nor did it aggres-sively push its pro-Jammu image, ceding ground to an anti-Kashmir sentiment that the BJP could exploit better. The post-poll survey showed that both the PDP and the BJP did better among the younger and the more educated voters in the Kashmir and the Jammu regions respectively.The NC managed to retain the same number of seats as the last time though it lost 5.2% of its share of votes. It lost votes across the state, including Jammu where it has a substantial presence in the Muslim-majority areas. But it made up for its loss of three seats in Jammu by gaining two seats in the Valley and one in Ladakh. The NC won its traditional constituencies in North Kashmir and Central Kashmir, while the PDP kept its base in South Kashmir intact and increased its tally by winning some seats in North Kashmir and the Jammu re-gion. The Congress won 17 seats in place of 20 last time, a majority from the Jammu re-gion. The apparent stability of the NC and Congress tallies masks a major churn at the constituency level. The NC lost 10 of the 28 seats it won last time – seven in the Valley – but made up by snatching five seats from independents, three from the Congress and two from the PDP. The Congress retained only eight of the 20 seats it won last time, losing as many as nine to the BJP in the Jammu region.Understanding the VerdictHow do we make sense of such a verdict, fractured as it was along regional and reli-gious lines? Should the NC-Congress coali-tion be seen as a negation of the popular verdict because it keeps out the two major gainers in the election? To answer these questions, we turn to the popular opinions and attitudes that lay behind voters’ choices (Tables 4 and 5). As mentioned above, when asked who they thought was best suited for development of the region, the mainstream political parties were picked by a majority over the separatist Hurriyat. The parties at the highend were the NC and the Congress, with the former getting the support of 17% of the respondents and the latter 24%.In comparison, the BJP and the PDP did not do so well (Table 4). If, as this paper argues, people were voting on the is-sue of development, then the NC and the Congress bring together a bigger pool of popular support than their seats, or even votes, might suggest. Similarly, when it came to the sensitive question of relations between the Kashmir and the Jammu re-gions, the respondents felt that the NC and the Congress were best suited to deal with the issue (Table 7, p 33). More importantly, both the parties enjoyed some trust on this count across the regional divide in the state. The PDP and the BJP emerged as sub-regional formations. Likewise, on the ques-tion of ensuring human rights, the NC and the Congress fared better than the other parties. Interestingly, this was also the case when respondents were asked who among the mainstream parties was best suited to solve the Kashmir problem: the Congress was preferred by 14% and the NC by 11%. While the BJP and the PDP are popular in one region each, they are perceived to be antagonistic to the interests of the other region. The two gainers, therefore, are confined to two regions of the state. In contrast, the two “losers” have a broader base across the two regions. ConclusionsThe two main issues that this paper ex-plores are why in spite of large-scale, anti-India demonstrations in the Valley, the elec-tion saw such a large voter turnout, and why the two main gainers in this election were not a part of the coalition which ulti-mately formed the government. First, the paper argues that being active participants in street-level protests against the govern-ment does not necessarily preclude the possibility of the same people voting in an election. Indeed, the sentiments that inform these two actions are not mutually exclusive. The former, along with the slo-gan of azadi, is essentially an expression of the people’s desire to decide their own fu-ture while the latter is an expression of their need for better governance. The data corroborates the paper’s postulate that peo-ple’s involvement in street-level agitations against the state does not necessarily imply that the same people will not participate in the electoral process. Second, the paper argues that voters’ political preferences were reflected in the formation of the NC-Congress government. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, the NC-Congress coalition reflects voters’ pref-erences if looked at through the lens in which the state’s politics plays out on two different axes – regional and communal. When it came to the formation of the gov-ernment, the very factors that saw the PDP and the BJP gain more seats in the election made them less “coalitionable”. Both of them represented a hard-line agenda – one anti-Jammu and the other anti-Kashmir; one pro-Muslim and the other pro-Hindu. The centrist parties were essentially the NC and the Congress, with their separate but overlapping bases in Kashmir and Jammu respectively. Given their wider base and support, a coalition of these two was better qualified to lay claims to a popular man-date than the parties that won more votes. Notes 1 The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, conducted a post-poll survey to study electoral/voting behaviour in Jammu and Kashmir in the 2008 Assembly election held in November-De-cember 2008. A structured questionnaire was ad-ministered to 1,842 respondents across 88 locations in the state. The sample was drawn using the multi-stage stratified random sampling technique. The sample was fairly representative in terms of gender (women 47%) and urban voters (25%). However, it is to be noted that the proportion of Hindu respond-ents was higher (44%) than actual (29.6%). 2 A term commonly used in the state to define po-litical groups that do not adhere to the Kashmiri separatist cause but express their belief in the Indian political process, particularly by partici-pating in the democratic exercise of elections. 3 An expression used to describe the initiative under-taken by the Indian government to resolve Jammu and Kashmir-related issues at the state level as well as those affected by India-Pakistan issues. 4 The BSP’s visibility in this election was important because the state has a large population of sched-uled castes (7.59% overall, and 43.67% in the Jammu region). If combined with the scheduled tribes (10.9%), their vote can sway the electoral result in the state. The figures are from the Census, 2001. 5 Religious is defined here as different from com-munal. While the latter would entail focus on a community’s religious identity in exclusion of any other identity, the former is more a faith-based individual and community affiliation which does not require exclusiveness.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top