A few days ago, the People’s Conference announced its candidate for the parliamentary elections (Lok Sabha) in the constituency of Srinagar. With the elections expected to be held between April and May of next year, the other parties are likely to announce their respective candidates as the time for the elections approaches. It will be interesting for political and other circles to know who will be the faces that will join the electoral contest. By this time, early preparations, such as holding a series of party meetings, have gained momentum and are likely to pick up pace in the coming months.
Unlike in the past, Parliamentary elections will be held in a different scenario in Jammu and Kashmir in 2024 due to redrawing of constituency boundaries due to delimitation exercise. This changed the scene to some degree and made electoral politics a bit more complicated. Such a change may cause political parties to revise their past electoral strategies and more particularly when more parties will be in the fray, which will now lead to a greater vote split. Over time, BJP is also trying to become a reality in Kashmiri politics with the hard work of some of its top leaders and its youth outreach.
For a long time, the National Conference held its stranglehold on the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir, which was broken by the PDP for some time. However, NC rebounded in the 2019 polls, taking all three seats.
But, has the redrawing of constituency boundaries really affected the electoral interests of some of the political parties? Does BJP now have a chance to grab even the newly created Anantnag-Poonch constituency and even more so if the Pahari community is also granted scheduled tribe status before the election? The answer to these questions will be known in the near future. Even the possibility of an electoral alliance between parties, if any, will also become clear at that time.
The change in the limits of the electoral districts and the fear of the division of votes may force the NC to opt for an alliance. Otherwise, the mood in the party right now is to compete in the five J&K constituencies as in the past, reports say. In 2019, NC won all three of Kashmir’s seats. As far as the PDP is concerned, it does not appear to be in a strong position for the Lok Sabha polls.
The party had not won any seats in recent polls. Removing the Shopian, Pulwama, Rajpora, Pampore and Tral assembly segments of the former Anantnag parliamentary constituency during the delimitation exercise and merging them with the Srinagar parliamentary constituency is something the party did not like.
However, some say the PDP has tried to make inroads into various pockets of the Poonch and Rajouri districts that were previously considered North Carolina strongholds. It will also be interesting to see how the inclusion of Shopian, Pulwama, Rajpora, Pampore and Tral in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency may affect the results of the elections in the Srinagar constituency.
Some circles believe that NC was not happy with the change of the assembly constituencies of Budgam and Beerwah from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency to Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency during the delimitation exercise.
Regarding the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Jammu, despite the changes during the delineation, the BJP is said to be comfortably located there. The party is very sure of winning both seats in parliament this time as well. He is also optimistic about winning the Ladakh seat again.
BJP believes that it is in a stronger position in Ladakh this time as the region seceded from J&K and became a separate union territory due to the move on 5th August 2019. While people in Ladakh have been doing some new demands, BJP leaders say these issues will be addressed as their main demand for UT status has already been granted.
Even though the uncertainty regarding the exact timing of holding the general election still continues, the political parties for their part are also busy making the necessary preparations for that. They do not want to be caught off guard when the assembly elections are announced before the Lok Sabha elections or after that.
The marking exercise also changed the dynamics of caucuses in Jammu and Kashmir. The boundaries of several assembly constituencies were redrawn, seven new constituencies were added, and some were kept reserved.
Various political parties in both Kashmir and Jammu had criticized the changes. However, it was stated at the official level that the delimitation exercise was much needed and was carried out in a fair and transparent manner to meet the new requirements for parliamentary and assembly constituencies.
After the clarification at the government level, things on the subject settled. Now the focus is on the Lok Sabha polls and the timing of the assembly elections. While there is a demand for early assembly elections from almost all parties, observers say the delay has helped all parties in one way or another to consolidate their positions on the ground.
There was a time when some felt that the PPD might not survive as most of the senior and junior leaders resigned and joined newly created parties and other parties.
While not many in NC quit their party, reports indicated that some young leaders, who belong to political families, were ready to move on and join new parties if assembly elections were held then.
However, these reports were denied by some of the youth leaders. Since no surveys were conducted and time passed as well, nothing like that happened so far. But such a possibility cannot be ruled out at future election time. The PDP is also a beneficiary of the delay in the electoral assemblies. Observers feel the party has had ample time to recover from a series of setbacks it has received since the fall of its coalition government with the BJP in 2018.
BJP has tried to bolster its position in Kashmir over the years by showing its presence in every nook and corner. Its leaders have become familiar faces in the Valley now because of their regular interactions with a cross-section of people, particularly youth. North Carolina is also busy reconnecting with the people and so is Congress.
But Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party may pose some challenge to Kashmiri-based parties. Bukhari himself has been very active on the political front and frequently visits places and addresses public meetings. Amid criticism from his rivals, he has been saying that “unlike traditional Kashmiri parties, his politics is not based on deceit, cheating and empty slogans.” “I can’t promise you something that I can’t give you back. But I promise you peace, development, dignity and protection of your rights”, he goes on to say as he addresses the town.
If the assembly votes are not held by then, the Lok Sabha elections will be the first major litmus test for the popularity of the political parties. Major parties and even new parties will try to win by having official representation and a voice in politics at the national level. Representation in parliament is important and all parties are very aware of this. The parties are busy making preparations in this direction to democratically get that space at the national level.
The author is Senior Editor, Grand Kashmir.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective in the article do not reflect the views of GK.