Geelani Insists on Boycott of J&K Polls, BJP Buoyant
A demonstration by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front earlier this year in Srinagar
NEW DELHI: All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has rejected appeals by ‘mainstream’ political parties not to boycott the elections saying that he will insist on this and certainly expects the Kashmiris not to cast their ballot in the forthcoming Assembly elections. The first round is on November 25.
Reports suggested that the Peoples Democratic Party, the Congress and the National Conference had approached the separatists in a bid to persuade them not to issue a boycott call for the Assembly elections. The reason given was to stem the rise of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, more so in the Valley where the migrant and Kashmiri pandit votes in some constituencies could constitute a victory in the face of non-polling by the majority of Kashmiris.
In an interview with The Citizen, Geelani said that there was no question of not insisting on the boycott. He said that for the Kashmiris all the political parties were the same, as they were trying to “fool the people” with promises of development but had failed to touch on the “basic issue of occupation.” He said that there was no difference for him insofar as the BJP and the other political parties contesting the elections were concerned, as they all had the same position on “the occupation” and the fact that the “Kashmiris are living under Army rule.”
The ageing Hurriyat leader said that in case the BJP came to power “we will oppose it as we have done all other governments in the past.” He remained categorical that there was no room for reviewing the decision, and that the boycott of the polls would be complete insofar as the Kashmir Valley was concerned.
There have been a spate of appeals by individuals and the political parties to the Hurriyat leaders not to insist on the usual boycott, with the plea that low polling would benefit the BJP in several constituencies in the Valley such as Haba Kadal, Amira Kadal, (Srinagar), Tral (Pulwama) and Sopore (Baramulla) seats.
The PDP and National Conference have been pointing out repeatedly that boycott this time around would enable the BJP and the RSS to consolidate the migrant votes in its favour, with the numbers large enough to bring its candidates to power in the above seats. PDP’s TH Karra has been quoted in the media as saying that the separatists will be responsible for bringing the BJP to power in the state, if they did not withdraw the boycott call. However, as Geelani said this was a matter of disinterest for the separatists as they did not differentiate between the political parties, and were prepared to intensify the opposition if so required after the elections.
Kashmiri political analysts explained the peculiar dynamics triggered by a boycott call. For instance in a constituency like Haba Kadal boycott calls by the separatists had been extremely effective with just 5769 votes cast in the last 2008 Assembly elections. In the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year a little over 2000 persons had voted. This constituency has over 16,000 minority (in the Jammu and Kashmir state context) voters registered, and the BJP strategy is to ensure that a majority of these votes are cast. Victory thus becomes easily achievable for the party on the basis of the migrant minority votes.
It is a similar situation in Tral, Sopore and Amira Kadal where a consolidate Kashmiri pandit vote can easily outnumber the few votes cast, if at all, by the others because of the boycott call.
Now that Geelani is determined to enforce the boycott, the decision by the other leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLFs Yasin Malik in one way becomes redundant. More so as the last years have shown---particularly since the protests and deaths of the youth in 2010---that Syed Ali Shah Geelani calls the shots in the Valley and the others generally follow. It is unlikely that any of the separatists will defy the boycott decision now, leaving the results for the above mentioned seats open for the BJP.
The Chenab Valley that goes to the polls in the first phase is also significant, as the BJP’s strategy of consolidation could just help it pick up seats in this hitherto virgin territory insofar as it is concerned. Sixty candidates are contesting the six Assembly seats here. Of these currently five are held by the Congress party and one by the National Conference. Both these parties have lost considerable ground with reports from the ground favouring the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party. Polarisation of the vote bank in these constituencies, disturbed by on and off communal tensions, could lead to an overwhelming win for the BJP in the Chenab Valley, with the sizeable Muslim vote divided between the other parties and hence becoming redundant in the final analysis. Besides this the boycott call by the Kashmiri separatists will also have some impact, and reduce the percentage in what local politicians fear will be in favour of the BJP.