By Sahil Mahajan
The road to have a Jammu chief minister after the Assembly elections, which, it appears might be held sometime in the summer of 2022, if not earlier, is long and riddled with unimaginable speed-breakers The chief minister’s position is not the one which comes with exchange offer. There is no exchange offer available. Kashmir will stick to its claim of having Chief minister from the region with a majority of population – the Valley has seven million people, while Jammu’s population count is a little over 5.3 million. These are technical details, but when it comes to the highest political office, the dynamics don’t stay within the territory. There also is a question of legitimacy of the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir at the international level. Over the decades, the international community has recognized Kashmir as the whole of J&K. Will things reverse this time, there is no firm word on it.
For decades, the idea of having chief minister from Jammu region has been in public discourse, but things did not materialize the way people wanted. It is the fault with the perceptions with which Jammu region has grown on divisive narratives on the caste and communal lines . Till date, there has been only one exception ; Ghulam Nabi Azad, who bridged the gaps, but his rule was short-lived. During his three-year-rule ( 2005 to 2008), he introduced a work culture in which foundation stone was laid only after half of the structure was up and rising . He also bridged the communities, regions and subregions.’ It was his stature that made him Chief Minister, not as a matter of political campaign , because his party ,Congress, never made it as a slogan or a matter of campaign in the elections. Everyone in J&K remembers and cherishes that period when he was the Chief Minister.
In 2021, a lot has changed since he resigned from the office of chief minister in July 2008 in the circumstances, which were manufactured to dislodge political stability in the erstwhile state. The years passed since, have proven that. Now, having a chief minister from Jammu is a matter of severe political campaign and slogan. BJP that had secured 25 seats in the 2014 Assembly seats from Jammu region – there was not a single seat in its count from the Valley, despite the fact that the vote count said that it had the largest vote share of 28 percent.
The PDP of the Kashmir valley won 28 seats , three of which came from Jammu . That resulted in what came to be known as “ coming together of the North Pole and South Pole” due to their diametrically opposite political ideologies and the religious orientation joining hands to form the coalition government. They represented different nationalisms: BJP stood for an all—encompassing Indian nationalism where there was no room for any subregional or regional nationalism. PDP was rooted in the Kashmir nationalism, which sought a special slot for the Kashmiri distinctiveness within the Indian nationalism. There was a conciliation of the two ideologies, not the merger of the two.
With the abolition of the Article 370 and 35 A, the differences have sunk forever, constitutionally, at least. The separate constitution and flag of J&K have been done away with. The BJP has taken credit for this huge change, transforming the mindset where India is the only nation to which everyone in J&K has to look up to. All other options have been eliminated . This is what the landscape is, and the scenario, which BJP hopes would emerge after the Delimitation Commission submits its report before March 2022 – the extended deadline of the Commission, would favour Jammu region in the number of Assembly seats. It is also confident that the voters in Kashmir would not vote for the NC or PDP or PC en masse.. The Valley vote would split, and Jammu vote would be garnered by BJP alone. That will change the equations and Jammu can have its own chief minister again. This is a test for the party, and the region, and it is quite a difficult one.