The 2008 polls in Jammu and Kashmir have been historic for numerous reasons?first it witnessed a highest-ever voters turnout who defied the boycott call given by Kashmiri separatist groups and most significantly the biggest-ever victory by Hindu forces.
The BJP secured the highest-ever number of seats, it won 11 seats bettering its previous tally of eight seats in 1996 elections.
Indeed, the BJP victory has baffled Congress, which has lost its maximum seats to BJP in Hindu-dominated Jammu region. The BJP bagged seven seats out of 11 in Jammu, 3 out of 5 in Kathua and 1 out of 2 in Reasi districts.
?It is historic victory for BJP in Jammu and Kashmir. It shows the faith of the people of Jammu region in this party, which advocates cause of Jammu region,? state party chief Ashok Khajuria told reporters after the party'sremarkable performance. The party leadership has vowed to be the voice of Jammu despite the fact that they were sitting as opposition. The BJP got 10 seats more than that in 2002, its victories coming at the expense of the Congress, which lost nine seats, and the National Conference, which lost one.
The BJP'slandslide victory might have surprised some but it was expected. The dual stance of Congress-led PDP coalition government on land transfer to Hindu shrine Amarnathji to appease the separatist and anti-India forces hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.
And though, BJP never made Amarnathji a poll issue, people wanted to vent their anger against Congress leadership of Jammu on the issue and voted for BJP, which from the very beginning adopted a straight approach to support discrimination with Jammu on land transfer issue on Amarnath shrine.
The vote for BJP is also a reflection of regional aspiration of Jammu region, which has always faced step-motherly treatment at the hands of Kashmiri leadership.
If BJP is accused of playing Amarnath card, what about PDP, which has bettered its previous tally of 16 to 21 playing separatism card in Muslim Kashmir and Muslim areas of Mendhar and Darhal in Jammu region. PDP played Amarnath land card to fan separatist feelings in Kashmir and even joined separatist groups in anti-India propaganda. To seek political mileage from the shrine issue, it even pulled support from its coalition partner, the Congress.
Till the filing of this report, the National Conference chief Omar Abdullah is all set to become the youngest-ever Chief Minister of the state at the age of 38, the third generation of Abdullah clan taking reigns from his father Farooq Abdullah. The Congress has agreed to go in for an alliance with NC.
This is the second alliance of both the parties in the state. The National Conference had formed the government with the Congress after Rajiv-Farooq accord in 1987. The government lasted till 19 February 1990 and the rest is history?separatism surged in Kashmir as Islamic forces forced the exodus of Hindu Kashmiris and pro-Pakistan terror groups took base leading to over two decades of insurgency.
Thus, this time, leadership of both the parties faces a daunting task to satisfy the aspirations of all the three regions of the state in most partial manner.
Separatist groups are baffled with the outcome of the election results. Already, the separatist groups in Kashmir have been snubbed by the surprise high voter turnout in the elections defying their poll boycott call. Some senior separatist leaders are beginning to think so after the high voter turnout witnessed during the polls that went on for over a month. Ignoring the separatists? poll-boycott calls, people came in droves to vote, with local issues like unemployment, education, healthcare and civic amenities taking precedence over emotive issues.
The separatist Hurriyat moderate group chief Mirwaiz Umer Farooq has already said that the separatists have to analyse their future strategies. Kashmir experts are saying: ?The separatists shall definitely have to think of some better strategy. Otherwise they shall be distancing themselves from the common man in Kashmir.?
Whatever the reasons for the high voter turnout in the valley, the fact remains that the separatist leaders are feeling colder than what the winter temperature would otherwise have made them feel. The 2008 is the first election, which has passed off peacefully, without any major untoward incident marring the process. In the wake of the election boycott call given by the separatists, the voter turnout, particularly in the conflict-ridden valley of Kashmir, has been much higher than expected.
However, the credit of introduction of free and fair elections in state goes to the regime of NDA headed by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who played an instrumental role in restoring confidence in common citizen of the state through democratic process. The seven-phase Kashmir elections that took place in month-long period registered 63 per cent polling overall. The turnout in 2002 elections was 43 per cent. Observers are already putting the 2008 elections as the most credible ever in the state where people voted on will without any coercion and there was almost negligible violence as the terrorists kept low perhaps due to domestic problems in Pakistan.
As many as 1354 candidates, including 517 Independents sought mandate from 87 constituencies. This was a record number of candidates contesting elections in the state.
The first Assembly election was held in the state in 1957 when almost all the candidates were declared elected unopposed.
The BJP, which was major beneficiary in the Assembly election, reached two digit mark for the first time since its inception in 1982 as it won 11 seats. The BJP had recorded its previous best tally of 8 in 1996. In 1996, BJP had won 8 seats?Jammu East, Gandhinagar, Jammu West, Suchetgarh, (Jammu District), Hiranagar (Kathua), Udhampur and Chenani (Udhampur) and Ramban (Doda). It had drawn blank in 1983, won only two seats in 1987 and one in 2002.
The BJP gained at the expense of Congress jumping from just one seat in the 10th Assembly to a tally of 11. The Congress suffered major reverses especially in Jammu region where its all Cabinet Ministers and even a sitting Lok Sabha Member lost the election reducing the party'stally of 31 at the time of dissolution of House to just 17.
Official figures revealed that as compared to 10.8 per cent votes secured by BJP in 2002 Assembly elections in Jammu region when its tally was reduced to just one seat, the party'svote bank in the present election has gone up to 21.9 per cent, an increase of 11.1 per cent that fetched party 10 more seats taking its figure to an all-time high at 11.
On the other hand, Congress, which had polled 29.8 per cent votes across Jammu region in 2002 polls, went down to 23.1 per cent in terms of vote share losing 9 seats in the process. Congress had 22 seats from a total of 37 in Jammu region in the last Assembly and its strength now has come down to 13.
While the BJP candidate Chander Parkash Ganga lost Vijaypur seat to NC'sSurjit Singh Salathia by a razor thin margin of 1,200 votes, the party candidate in Samba Satwant Kour Dogra was defeated by Panthers Party candidate and former Minister Yashpal Kundal by 1900 votes.
In Gandhi Nagar constituency BJP candidate, Dr Nirmal Singh lost to Congress nominee and former Minister Raman Bhalla by a margin of 2200 votes while in Udhampur constituency party candidate, Pawan Gupta was trounced by NPP candidate, Balwant Singh Mankotia by 2100 votes. In Kishtwar the party candidate, Sunil Sharma lost to NC'sSajjad Ahmed Kitchloo by a margin of 1600 votes.
Though BJP was relegated to third number in Rajouri constituency after PDP but the party candidate Vivod Gupta lost the seat with a thin margin of 1,300 votes to Shabir Khan of Congress while the party candidate Chaman Lal Kanathia also lost the Chamb seat by a low margin of 2376 votes to Congress nominee and ex-Speaker of the Assembly, Tara Chand.
The party also came number two in Akhnoor Assembly segment of Jammu district where its candidate and former Minister Govind Ram Sharma was defeated by Congress candidate Sham Lal Sharma. In Bhaderwah though party suffered a humiliating defeat where the former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress defeated its candidate and former BJP president by a margin of 30,000 votes but the party managed to secure number two position ahead of NC'sMohammed Aslam Gani.
The BJP also came runner up in Chenani Assembly segment of Udhampur district and Ramban Assembly segment of Ramban district where the party lost the seats to Congress. The other seat in Jammu region where the party stands at second number is Billawar in Kathua district.
Bharatiya Janata Party which had also fielded 25 candidates this time in Kashmir Valley, managed to get only around 15,000 votes in the Valley. Its candidates from Kangan remained at third place while at fourth in Pahalgam. In Habba Kadal constituency, BJP candidate remained at second place next to NC'sShamima Firdous who got 2374 votes followed by 671 by BJP'sHL Chatta.
The BJP'sseats went up from one in the last election in 2002 to 11 in this election, the biggest gain by any party as the party could have won only one seat last time, it did win 12 per cent of the votes indicating a solid support base. So, a closer look at the trends in the Jammu region suggests that the impact of Amarnath may be exaggerated.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, held long before the Amarnath agitation, the BJP won 15 Assembly segments in Jammu. This time, after the Amarnath row, the party'sseat share dropped to 11. Political analysts maintain that in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections issues differ so voters cast their votes accordingly. Therefore one cannot predict that if one party won more seats in the Lok Sabha, then the same party would surely fair better in the Assembly elections too. Nevertheless the trend shows that BJP had already begun to do well in Jammu way back in 2004, and might have done well this time with or without the Amarnath agitation.
For the seven-phase polling in the border state, the BJP had fielded 62 candidates. The BJP, then Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) had won 3 seats each in 1967 (29 candidates) and 1972 (32 candidates), followed by 2 in 1987 (29 candidates), while it drew a blank in 1977 (5 candidates) and in 1983 (27 candidates).