In its best ever electoral performance in the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as the second largest party in the state, as results came in Tuesday morning. The BJP has never governed the state of J&K.
By mid-morning, the BJP was set to win at least 25 of the 87 seats, with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) expected to take 28 seats. The incumbent Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) and the Indian National Congress trailed behind with 17 seats and 11 seats respectively. The halfway mark -- needed to form a government -- is 44 seats in the state legislature. However, it was unclear which parties would come together to form a coalition government in the state.
J&K enjoys a special autonomous status within the Indian union that separates it from the other 28 states and federally administered territories. And the BJP has long advocated that this special constitutional provision should be done away with and that J&K should be brought on par with other states.
To be sure, a ruling coalition between BJP and Congress, or PDP and JKNC, is unlikely as they are political adversaries. The most likely scenario is predicted to be a PDP-BJP partnership or a PDP-Congress combination staking claim to form a government in the state. And, PDP leader and former J&K Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Saeed is the most likely candidate to be sworn in as the next chief minister of the state.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the only one in India to have a Muslim-majority population. The state, which was ruled by a Hindu prince before India’s independence from British rule in August 1947, has three principal regions -- the predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley, the majority Hindu and Sikh Jammu region and Ladakh, a little less than half of whose residents follow Buddhism, though Muslims outnumber the latter.
Arch rivals and neighbors India and Pakistan both lay claim to the state and have fought two full wars -- in 1965 and 1971 -- and at least two limited wars -- in 1948 and 1999. While India controls two-thirds of the former princely state, Pakistan controls most of the rest, with China holding portions of the northernmost and largely uninhabited, yet strategically important Aksai Chin region. A significant number of Muslim residents of Kashmir want independence for the region, which has seen an armed insurgency that India claims is funded and supported from across the border in Pakistan.
In this election, the BJP did not win a single seat from the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.
Local politics in the strife-torn state has, in the last decade, been dominated by two principal regional parties -- PDP and JKNC -- both of which have sided with the Congress party in successive governments. Both PDP and JKNC have also partnered with BJP-led or BJP-supported federal governments on different occasions, though the BJP has never before been part of a ruling coalition in J&K.
Mufti Muhammad Saeed, a former Congress leader and former home minister of India, formed the PDP in 1999 along with his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. The JKNC was founded in the 1930s by Sheikh Abdullah, a prominent Kashmiri Muslim leader, who initially fought for self rule under the state's Hindu ruler Hari Singh. After Kashmir controversially joined India after its independence, Abdullah became the first prime minister (later called chief minister) of the state, which continues to have its own constitution under which the local government is run. The Abdullah family were originally Hindu brahmins and embraced Islam in the late eighteenth century.
Sheikh Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah later became the state’s chief minister and handed the baton over to his son Omar Abdullah, who is the incumbent chief minister.
While separatist tendencies in the state have led to an on-again, off-again armed insurgency, in 1993, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a political front of over 20 separatist parties that have boycotted state and national elections since 1987, when the polls were largely believed to have been rigged by the Indian government, was formed. These parties have, since then, never participated in elections for the state legislature or the Indian parliament. The events of 1987 fuelled the armed insurrection, which was at its peak in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, the BJP was also seen leading as the single largest party in the eastern mineral rich state of Jharkhand, which also went to polls Tuesday.
This story has been updated to add comments from BJP President Amit Shah and incumbent chief minister Omar Abdullah in the third paragraph.