Going beyond identity politics

Dr Rekha Chowdhary
The election 2014 will be marked as one such unique election in the history of Jammu and Kashmir when emotive issues based on identity politics are not being raised. The reason for this lies in the nature of the competition and the stakes that each of the potential power-seeking party has  placed for itself. In the context of highly competitive and fragmented political space, none of the political parties is sure of gaining the majority. Therefore, each of these parties is aiming at maximisation of its seats share in the Assembly. What has added to the intensity in the nature of competition is the increasing number of potential claimants to power. To the earlier three competitors for power – that is the NC, PDP and the Congress, there is a fresh addition of the BJP. Each of these claimants is fighting the election independently rather than in alliance with another party.
Interestingly, each of these parties is defining itself to be all-state parties and thus rather than being region-specific are seeking mandate from all the three regions of the state. Earlier, there were only two parties that had their presence in all the regions of the state – the NC and the Congress. But even these parties had their regional-specificities. For instance, the NC had its primary base in Kashmir region and the Congress had Jammu as its primary constituency. The tilt of the political agenda of each of the two parties was also in favour of the region these parties identified with. However, as the situation is emerging, neither of the two parties is sure about its electoral performance in these two regions and hence, their stakes in other regions are very high. Hence, both these parties are projecting their agenda in broader terms. Development is the major emphasis of both these parties.
The situation is more interesting for the other two parties – the PDP and the BJP. Both these parties till last Assembly election of 2008 were identifying themselves with particular regions – Kashmir in the first case and Jammu in the second case. Their political agenda was also quite region specific. PDP, as the party emerged in late 1990s, sought to project itself as a pro-Kashmir party and defined its agenda with reference to conflict politics. Giving the slogan of ‘healing touch’ for the people of Kashmir, it sought to bring to the electoral space all those issues which were earlier raised only by the separatists. In projecting itself as a pro-Kashmir party, it not only focused on the issues that its leadership felt would attract the voters in Kashmir, but it also sought to play the regional sentiment to its maximum. There were moments – like its response to issue of women’s right to be the permanent residents of the state; or the issue of transfer of land to SASB – when its regional identity politics had acquired a shrill. The party in fact, withdrew from the government in order to project its pro-Kashmir orientation. However, as one can see in the context of 2014 elections, the PDP is projecting itself as a party of inclusive politics. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has been constantly projecting his party as one which can build bridges among the regions and cement the relations among them. He has been referring about the commitment of the party to develop a bond among the communities and region to maintain the plural character of the state.
As for as BJP is concerned, its traditional political agenda was specific to Jammu region. Apart from raising the issue of abolition of Article 370, it used to emphasise on the issue of regional imbalance and regional discrimination. However, this election, the BJP has sought to redefine its political ambitions and its political agenda. Rather than holding on to the oppositional space that it used to occupy in the power politics of the state, it has staked claim for power and declared its goal of obtaining majority in the Assembly. With this mission, It is not only trying to get as many seats from Jammu and Ladakh regions, but also from Kashmir. It is in this context that it finds the need to go beyond its traditional agenda. Like the PDP, the BJP in its new form of being an all-state party cannot afford to be raising vociferously the issues it raised earlier. It is therefore emphasising on the issues related to development and governance. What is missing therefore in its discourse is the emphasis on exclusive regional issues.
In the kind of competition that has emerged,  one can see therefore that the political parties have been compelled to go beyond their fixed political constituencies and agendas. Region specificity of the politics of the state, is almost over. Except for Ladkah region where the issue of UT status is still being used, in other two regions, the identity politics, at least for the present election is on the retreat. Each region is being considered important and hence the discourse is on regional parity, and equitable regional development. Unlike earlier elections, politics is not being played by using one region against the other and one community against the other. It seems as if all the political parties have for the time being accepted the plurality of the state and also accepted the need to take all the regions and communities along.


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