Hung house in Kashmir as PDP comes on top
Jammu and Kashmir got a hung assembly Tuesday, with the PDP becoming the single largest group and the BJP making history by finishing a close second in a verdict that exposed the deep divide between the largely Muslim Kashmir Valley and Hindu-majority Jammu region.
With no single party in a position to form a government on its own, the Peoples Democratic Party with 28 of the 87 seats hinted it was not averse to sailing with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which bagged all its 25 seats from Jammu region.
The National Conference of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah -- who won from Beerwah but lost in Sonwar -- won 15 seats, disproving critics who felt it might be wiped out. Its estranged ally Congress finished with 12 seats -- five less than last time.
Seven seats went to smaller parties and independents including two bagged by the People's Conference of Sajjad Lone, a former separatist leader. Yusuf Tarigami, a veteran Marxist, won again from the valley.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the record voter turnout in Kashmir as a sign of people's faith in democracy, BJP president Amit Shah credited the unprecedented showing by his party in the state to the six months of good governance by Modi.
Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh, a Lok Sabha member from Udhampur in Kashmir, said: "This will be a turning point for BJP and for Jammu and Kashmir politics."
The BJP, until now considered a bit player in Kashmir that too only in Jammu region, not only increased its seat tally from 11 in 2008 to 25 now, but polled the maximum votes - over 23 percent.
The BJP had hoped to win 44 seats -- enough to take power on its own in Jammu and Kashmir. That did not happen. But a PDP-BJP coalition would give them the numbers to comfortably form a coalition government.
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said it would take time to form a government to provide "good governance".
Her party spokesman Samir Kaul, however, said that "an alliance with the BJP is not ruled out".
Mehbooba added: "It is not a decisive mandate. It is not even according to our expectations. We could not get the kind of result we had expected."
She refused to say if her party would prefer to sail with the BJP or the Congress. "We are looking for a government which is based on an agenda... The agenda of good governance.
"It will take time to find out what formulations can give good governance. We will take our time... We are not in a hurry."
Although the final decision on forging an alliance would rest on Modi and Shah, BJP sources said opinion within was split on who the party should go with -- the PDP or National Conference.
The BJP did not field any senior leader or known face in the election. Instead, the party projected Modi as the answer to Kashmir's long-standing problems.
Modi visited the state six times to campaign and focussed mainly on issues of development. He also spoke against corruption and dynastic rule.
On his part, outgoing Chief Minister Abdullah said the best possible combination would be one involving the BJP and PDP and chided the Congress for making overtures to the PDP for the sake of tripping the BJP.
"I have accepted the people's verdict," he said. "But those who thought we would do badly very badly have been proved wrong."
Riding on the Modi wave, the BJP won its 25 seats in the Jammu region, where only six Congress candidates won. But the BJP got only two percent of votes in the Kashmir Valley.
The National Conference and PDP won two seats each in Jammu region and got the rest in the valley, the epicentre of a dragging separatist campaign.
Three of the four seats in the Buddhist-dominated Ladakh region went to the Congress. The fourth seat was taken by an independent supported by the National Conference.
BJP general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao said: "More important than winning is the fact that the BJP's acceptability has increased in the state in an exponential way.
"What will be important for us (when we decide on alliances) is how to fight terrorism and insurgency... Jammu and Kashmir is not like any other state. We need to see the options available (to us)."
Asked about possible alliances, BJP's Jay Narayan Vyas said: "Politics is always a game of enormous possibilities."