The District Development Council (DDC) polls were the first major elections held in the Union territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir after the Narendra Modi government last year scrapped the erstwhile state’s semi-autonomous status and divided it into two separate UTs: J&K and Ladakh.
After the results for 278 of the 280 segments were declared (counting has halted in the remaining two), both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an amalgam of seven political parties that came together with a common objective of restoring the state’s special constitutional provisions, have claimed victory. While the BJP is celebrating the fact that it is the single largest party with 75 wins, the PAGD has finished as the largest pre-poll alliance with 110 wins. Independents have won 50.
Here are five charts that explain what the DDC results mean for Jammu and Kashmir’s politics.
BJP’s high seat share needs to be read with its poor strike rate
While the BJP has ended up with the largest seat share in these elections, this needs to be read along with the fact that it also contested the maximum number of seats. This is because the two major regional parties in Kashmir, the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) joined the PAGD with five other smaller parties in the state. A comparison of strike rates (seats won as a share of seats contested) shows that the BJP is behind four constituents of the PAGD.
This explains why PAGD has ended up with more seats than the BJP. The NC contested 168 seats, which is much more than the 68 seats contested by the PDP, but their strikes rates are largely similar. The Congress, which used to be a major political force in the state, is behind the BJP in terms of strike rate.
But the BJP does have a higher contested vote share than the NC-PDP
The BJP is ahead of the NC-PDP even in terms of the vote share in contested seats. While its contested vote share is marginally higher than the NC’s, it is significantly higher than that of the PDP. This picture changes when one looks at the Kashmir and Jammu divisions separately.
The BJP has the highest contested vote share in the Jammu region and the lowest among big parties in the Kashmir region. This statistic is crucial for understanding the fault lines in Jammu and Kashmir’s politics.
The religious divide between Jammu and Kashmir persists
Among all states and Union territories, Jammu and Kashmir is the only one where the Muslim population comprises a majority. However, the Muslim population in the territory is not equally distributed across its regions. Muslims comprised 96.4% of the population in 10 districts of the Kashmir region, according to the 2011 Census, while Hindus comprise 62.6% of Jammu’s population. The 20 districts can largely be divided into three groups – 11 entirely Muslim districts (where Muslims comprise more than 90% population), four entirely Hindu districts (where Hindus comprise more than 90% population) and five mixed districts (where Muslims comprise 50% to 70% of the population).
The DDC poll results have once again highlighted the communal polarisation in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP has won 86% of the 56 seats in the entirely Hindu districts while it has won only 2% of the 152 seats in the entirely Muslim districts. The PAGD has won 57% seats in the entirely Muslim districts compared to just 4% in the entirely Hindu districts.
Has the BJP made gains in the Kashmir region after the nullification of Article 370?
That Jammu and Kashmir’s politics has been polarised around its religious geography is known. With the NC-PDP and other smaller parties coming together against the BJP, the overall outcome in these elections was not surprising. The only question worth asking is: has the BJP been able to gain political ground in the Kashmir region by championing the Union government’s decision to take away the erstwhile state’s autonomy and making it into a UT, which it has said will lead to more development? While the BJP is highlighting the fact that it has won three seats in these elections in the Kashmir region, this cannot be compared to a win in assembly or Lok Sabha elections because DDC segments are much smaller. Because the DDC polls have been held for the first time, no comparisons can be made with previous elections.
A vote-share comparison with the 2014 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections shows that the BJP continues to be an insignificant player in the Kashmir region. Because local body elections are fought in a very different manner compared to national or even state elections, not much should be read into small variations in vote share.
Voter turnout still a cause for concern
One important factor in every election in Jammu and Kashmir has been voter turnout. Voter participation dropped significantly in the erstwhile state, particularly in the Kashmir region, after militancy erupted in the late 1980s. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the voter turnout in Kashmir was its lowest in two decades. The Union territory saw 51% voter turnout in the DDC elections this year but this was skewed towards the Jammu region. About 68% registered electors voted in the Jammu regions, while only 34% voted in the Kashmir region.
The turnout in the Kashmir region this time was 15 percentage points more than it was in the 2019 Lok Sabha election but 22.5 percentage points less than that in the 2014 assembly election. This means only a third of the registered electors in Kashmir voted.
(By Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa, Hindustan Times)