With a majority of exit polls predicting a clear win for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, there are concerns in Kashmir that a victory may embolden the saffron party to adopt a more aggressive approach in the Valley and possibly call for the abrogation of the state's special status.
With the Lok Sabha election drawing to a close on Sunday, most exit polls expect the NDA to return with a clear majority. In Kashmir, there were hopes that even if the BJP was return to power, it would lose some seats, making it dependent on allies. This, in turn, was expected to push the party to adopt a "softer approach" to the Valley.
"This is not good for Kashmir," said Aftab Ahmad, a private school teacher in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, "The return of tje BJP would mean brazen human rights violations and killings. The humiliation of Kashmiris will only get worse."
Aftab's thoughts are shared widely by the people of Kashmir, who believe that the aggressive security approach adopted by the BJP since it came to power in 2014 has only created more problems for New Delhi in Kashmir in the longer run. Since the Narendra Modi government came to power in New Delhi in 2014, it has adopted a security-centric approach when it comes to the Valley. In the past five years, hundreds of people have been killed, including security forces. The attack by a Kashmiri suicide bomber on 14 February left 40 soldiers dead in south Kashmir.
However, the approach has failed to achieve its objectives. The local insurgency, by all accounts, has flourished in these years and fresh militant recruitment is underway in the Valley, despite a record number of militant killed in the past three years. Most importantly, never in the past 29 years of insurgency has the Valley drifted so far away from New Delhi as seen in the past three years.
"The security-centric approach has not worked," said Aijaz Ahmad Wani, a political scientist based in Srinagar, "In the past few years, Kashmiris have been pushed to the wall."
The biggest victims of this policy, Wani said, are the regional political parties who have been painted as some sort of "villains" by the BJP leaders in New Delhi. The party has been consistently portraying the Kashmir-based political parties as separatists and "Pakistan sympathisers".
This approach has led to more friction and political uncertainty. Both National Conference and the PDP, the former ally of the BJP, have heavily criticised the BJP when it comes to Kashmir. Every other day, the regional parties chastise New Delhi for delaying the state Assembly elections and ruling the state of Jammu and Kashmir by proxy for 'sinister' reasons.
Despite the Kashmir crackdown, the BJP is expected to win at least two seats from the Jammu region while, according to exit polls, the National Conference, the Grand Old Party of Jammu and Kashmir, is expected to all win three from Kashmir. Some exit polls have also forecast a victory for PDP from at least one seat in Kashmir.
"It is good that the BJP is coming back to power. The way it used Kashmir in these elections, is an indication of how it is going to deal with the issue in coming years. That will only strengthen our resolve," said Shuaib Ahmad, a resident of Pulwama, who was hit by a bullet last year in the Muran area.
That feeling is shared by mainstream politicians. With Lok Sabha polls ending in Kashmir, the forces have intensified their campaign against militants, especially in south Kashmir which has been the epicentre of the new insurgency in the Valley and where most of the militants were killed in the past three years. Since 10 May, 12 militants have already been killed in eight counter-insurgency operations.
"They (BJP) have been always seen as anti-Kashmir and their stand on everything is anti-Kashmir. If the BJP returns to power, it will spell doom for the state," Nasir Aslam Wani, senior National Conference leader, said.
On the other hand, the Hurriyat Conference is hoping that the new dispensation in New Delhi will revisit its Kashmir policy. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a seminar organised by the Hurriyat Conference on Sunday, moderate Hurriyat chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the Kashmir issue will not be resolved through military might or any violent methods.
"The Government of India has to change its policy on Kashmir. Anti-Kashmir measures like closing down of highways, raids by NIA, ED, PSAs, transferring land to forces will not lead to any solution. We expect the new government to review its Kashmir policy," Mirwaiz said.
"The new government should think that the resolution of Kashmir will come through dialogue. Kashmiri people, whether the youth or Hurriyat Conference, support dialogue and peaceful resolution of the issue," he said.
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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 13:13:43 IST