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Communalism in Jammu and Kashmir politics

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CPThe politics in Jammu and Kashmir is hotting up with elections likely to happen in a couple of months, political parties are trying to put every trick of trade in practice to ensure that they win the heart and mind of voters. While a healthy competition for votes augurs well for the democracy but the insidious role of religion and regional affiliations is likely to leave permanent scars in the polity of the state. The division among the people is already there but if political battles are fought on regional and communal lines then the chances of peace, prosperity and development are negligible. While all the political parties are claiming to be secular but political watchers say that all differences among the people would be exploited by the politicians to ensure they get to power.

All the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir are region specific, and even religion also plays an important place in deciding who constitutes the vote bank of these parties. While National Conference and PDP are primarily Kashmir centric parties with majority of supporters in the valley, the Congress has support in both Kashmir and Jammu. The BJP which is another national party is predominantly Jammu based, and has also pockets of influence in other Hindu populated towns and villages across the Jammu region. It has been recently embraced by Budhists in Ladakh who voted for the party in Lok Sabha polls, and gave BJP a rare victory. Traditionally, they have voted for the Congress however the anti-incumbency against the Congress both in the state, and in Delhi hurt the party in Lok Sabha polls badly. The Modi wave which ensured BJP victory across the country also worked in Jammu and Kashmir, however, even more strong was the anti-Congress mood among the voters in predominantly Hindu population in Jammu region over the recent Kishtwar violence which polarized the voters like never before.

In the aftermath of the Kishtwar violence, there has been polarization of people on communal lines as well, while Jammu and Kashmir has always been divided over regional lines as people in Jammu region see domination of Kashmir based parties overbearing, and something which has been supported by the Congress governments in the past also will harm the party. The victory of Modi government in fact has given them hope that the policy of appeasement which has been followed by Delhi with respect to the Kashmiri political parties would come to an end. It is with this hope that they have strongly come to support the BJP, although a major part of the populace is not communal by nature, the Jammuites see the Kashmir centric polity as hegemony, and working perpetually in favour of Valley. It was also in this context that a Congress minister called for having a person from Jammu as Chief Minister of the state, a statement which caused much consternation among the Kashmiri politicians who see this demand as an anathema. An interesting development in the state is that PDP which is seen more aligned with separatist ideology has been able to made inroads in Jammu region, more so within the Muslim community which has mostly voted for the National Conference led by Abdullahs. The Muftis have also worked hard to improve their acceptability among the Hindus of Jammu, and what could be termed as a strategic victory, their party managed to induct Bikramaditya Singh, scion of the Jammu and Kashmir royal family. For Singh to join the PDP is almost a coup for the Muftis, and a shock for the majority of Dogras who although don’t see the royal family as an inspiration but yet hope it will represent the Dogra resistance against Kashmiri domination.

The sub-regional ideology being promoted by PDP, and also supported by parties with an eye on Muslim vote bank in Doda, Kistwar, and towns along Chenab river has clearly led to a polarized society with Hindus voting for the BJP, and Muslims for a candidate who is most likely to win. In such a situation it is imperative for the political parties to send a message they do not believe in communal and regional politics. If this does not happen then there is every likelihood that Hindus will vote for the BJP, the Muslims for vote for either PDP or NC depending on winnability of the candidate, and Congress will win where it has strong candidates. However, such politics will divide the state into small pockets with opposing interests that fight against each other thus putting development and growth into permanent status quo. It is also likely that BJP, and PDP might form an alliance in case of none of the parties comes out with single majority but still the fault-lines in the state are too deep for political alliances to come over these divides.

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