NEW DELHI: There is a palpable difference in Jammu and Kashmir between the 2014 elections and those held over the last three decades. The difference is in fact striking and has made its impact on the political parties, in particular the regional parties, that are feeling the pressure and hence the constraint to strike alliances that their leaders would have shown little compunction in doing even five years ago.

The difference is in the electorate of the Kashmir valley in particular. After decades of abject victimhood, the Kashmiri voter has turned the page. And under the leadership of the youth has empowered itself in the 2014 Assembly elections by one, making its own choice and two, acting as a strong pressure group after the results. As a result the regional parties in particular are scrambling for ‘secular’ alternatives, and under scrutiny of a vigilant electorate, are not able to move deep into talks with the BJP for fear of a backlash in the Valley.

The situation thus, remains fluid as new options are floated at the beginning of the day only to die at the end. The PDP-BJP alliance turned into a “we will form the government” by the BJP, turned into talks between the NC and BJP, turned into talks between the Congress and the PDP. In between have been retractions, smokescreens, and even offers by the NC to support the PDP in response to the overwhelming demand from the Valley. All realise that any solution has to have the presence of Ladakh and Jammu with a PDP-NC-Congress option under current discussion.

It is perhaps for the first time in recent memory that the Kashmiris decided to vote despite the boycott call and pressure from sections within not to participate in what was dubbed as “Indian democracy”. The decision to vote came from the unspoken and yet united decision to keep the Bharatiya Janata party out of the Valley because of fear of further dilution of the special status that Jammu and Kashmir has been conferred through Article 370. And the voters came out in droves to send out their message, confident that their specific reason for the voting would be understood and would not dilute their separate demand for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

However, it is the after-poll unity of the people in Kashmir that has come as a surprise not to the Delhi that perhaps has not fully understood the significance, but to the political parties trying to form a government in the state. Both the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, used to having a free hand, once the results were declared find themselves shackled by the Valley. And unable to retract from promises through opportunistic alliances without inviting public criticism and strong antagonism from the people who voted them in. “Hands off the BJP” is the message from the electorate that is making it almost impossible for the NC and the PDP to enter into an alliance with the BJP without completely ending their future in the Valley.

The social media is being used to good advantage with every tweet of the NC and PDP leaders being analysed, approved or rejected by the hyper active Kashmiri youth who have made it clear that unlike the older generation, they were not going to sit by and let the regional parties “flirt with our vote.” The result is that as soon as news about serious negotiations between the BJP and the National Conference came to be known, several NC legislators went on record saying they would leave the party if this happened. The NC had to issue a clarification, with its Jammu legislator Devendra Rana finding it difficult to continue the talks that he had helped initiate.

Similarly the PDP is in denial mode and keeps insisting that it is not talking to the BJP. PDP legislator Muzaffar Beigh who had spent the first day of the results waxing eloquent about a possible BJP-PDP alliance had to be issued a gag order by the party because of the strong wave of anger in the Valley. Subsequently the PDP went indoors and while there are reports of talks with the BJP continuing the party, for the record, insists that it is looking for other alternatives.

A serious effort is being made by the PDP within to woo the Independents. PDP leader and MLA from Amira Kadal Syed Altaf Bukhari pointed out that the party was now looking at the Independents and had the support of at least three of them. He named CPI (M) leader and MLA Kulgam M Y Tarigami, MLA Khan Sahib Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen and MLA Langate Engineer Abdul Rashid. “Independents are not governed by any law and can support any alliance. Tarigami is from CPI (M), which is a totally opposed to BJP’s ideology and Engineer Rashid has pro-Kashmir agenda,” he said.

He said if independent candidates demand posts in cabinet for their support in government formation, that option can be discussed.

This follows the BJP claim that it was the single largest party as it had the support of all the seven Independents and hence should be invited to form the government. These smokescreens have now become the norm in these negotiations between the various parties, that at the moment do not seem to be leading anywhere as the situation remains nebulous and fluid.

To concerns that funds from the centre would be adversely impacted if the PDP did not ally with the BJP, Altaf Bukhari’s response indicated a new thinking within the PDP on this. He said, “No central government can afford to give a cold shoulder to J&K, which is a sensitive state.”

Rising Kashmir has reported that Tarigami, Engineer and Hakeem Yaseen are willing to support a “secular” government in the state. Tarigami said, “PDP should come in front. This is a secular state thus the government should also be secular.”

Every statement from the regional leaders is discussed on the social media by the vigilante youth that is not only monitoring the ‘antics’ as one of them put it of the political leaders but commenting on it all passionately. The anger over a possible PDP-BJP alliance in the state poured out on the social media, with even Jammu segments hostile to the decision. The reaction was sufficient to exert pressure on the newly elected legislators who in turn exerted pressure on the leadership, sufficient to make patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed retreat indoors in search of a viable alternative.