In Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), India has been deliberately delaying the Panchayat elections for quite some time now. The recent results of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, (LAHDC) Leh had rejected the BJP’s radical Hindutva agenda. The people of IIOJK do not spare any opportunity to express their hatred and dissent for India’s ruling elites, or ultimately, Indian oppression. This was evident in the recent Ladakh elections, where the ruling BJP could only secure two seats out of a total of 26. The BJP’s humiliating defeat has spoken volumes about how “unpopular” the BJP is on the ground.
The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Kargil election marked a significant political event as the National Conference (NC) and Congress forged an alliance to secure a total of 22 seats, making them dominant players in the 30-member council. This election, the first since Ladakh attained Union Territory status following the abrogation of Article 370, remained unfortunate for the BJP. The NC emerged as the single largest party with a victory in 12 seats, while the Congress secured 10 seats. Additionally, the BJP secured two seats, and two independent candidates also tasted success. The voter turnout was notable, with 77.61 percent of the 95,388 eligible voters participating in the democratic process on October 4, 2023.
To analyse the causes behind this defeat, one needs to take a look at the history and social setup of Ladakh. Ladakh is comprised of two districts: Kargil with a majority Muslim population, both Sunnis and Shias and Leh, which is predominantly Buddhist. Despite being part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the politics of Ladakh has been different throughout history. One more factor is the strong roots of the National Conference throughout history. The NC has always performed well in elections in the Ladakh region.
The people of Ladakh said no to the BJP’s Sectarian agenda and hatred politics. The BJP lured the people of IIOJK with fake promises of development and prosperity after the revocation of Article 370. After Article 370 was removed, the BJP started exploiting local ethnic and sectarian fault lines. But four years have passed since the revocation, and nothing has changed on the ground except for the harsh use of force and witch-hunting of intellectuals and even any dissenting voice. This fact forced the Hindus of Jammu to protest against Modi and the Indian government.
Many minorities in India are worried about the BJP’s strategy of dividing people. They see it as promoting “Radical Hindutva,” which is causing common concern among them. During Modi’s tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi has used every possible means to suppress Muslims. While in this tenure, the fascist organizations working under the umbrella of radical Hindutva supremacists have been against every minority, be it Christians, Sikhs, or other minorities. The flag-bearers of Hindutva do not want other communities to live peacefully in India. Therefore, this policy of the ruling party provoked a reaction from the public, and they showed their dissent whenever they found an opportunity.
The question, however, is whether or not this defeat of the BJP will influence the upcoming political situation in Kashmir and have any effect on the status of the BJP in coming elections. No one can clearly predict how much influence this defeat will have on elections. But it seems that the defeat of the BJP in Ladakh and the protests of Hindus of Jammu against the government have put the BJP on the “back foot”. This is evident in the fact that the BJP is continuously trying to delay the “Panchayat elections.”
There is no doubt that the BJP will treat the coming elections as their “first and last chance.” The BJP cannot take the risk of losing the elections, so by hook or crook, and by the use of lethal power, the BJP will try to win the elections to validate their claim of normalcy in Kashmir. The BJP will use every possible “fair or unfair” means to get a win in Kashmir. If the BJP tries to win the election by massive rigging as India tried in 1987, the result may be as explosive as they were then. Because the whistle of the “pressure cooker” is already whistling and the “graveyard silence” in the length and breadth of IIOJK can turn into a thunderstorm.
Saba Ghulam Nabi is Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK.