The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Curious thing, this world of elections. Victors, and the vanquished. Seats, and governments. Perceptions of the people, and those of the psephologists. In the race to victory, measured solely by the number of seats won, a lot gets left behind in the ruins of defeat, and triumph. The debacle hides as much as it reveals. Even as the morning after produces copious amounts of instant analyses, a lot remains veiled. All of which makes for an overpowering urge to unstitch the vote, the will of the people.

The recent vote for the Jammu and Kashmir assembly is one such gem. Hidden in the votes is a story far removed from that of the victor and the vanquished, obscured by Westminster’s bequest of first-past-the-post to legislatures. Alas, the numbers of seats are paramount in this form of analysis, not the quantity of votes. But it is the mass of votes that has a narrative quite unlike that of the seats, and in its disentangling lies the indication of the will of the people, and that distinctly Kashmiri monopoly, the mood of the natives.

The National Conference has done remarkably well in two of the three parts of the state. Consider this: six years of governance during a very tricky time in the state’s history, the anti-incumbency factor, alienation of the permanent fence-sitters, and a belated change of guard at the top just as the elections were round the corner. In a purely numerical sense, the real victor of the Jammu and Kashmir elections is the National Conference under the charge of Omar Abdullah. In the short span of time that he had the party flag in his hand, the younger Abdullah ensured that the National Conference emerged as the largest party in the state, both in terms of seats won and the number of votes polled. The variance in the former may not have much to show for itself, but as far as difference in votes is concerned the margins are enormous, and all point to interesting changes in the future.

The National Conference, even if the six years of power are taken to be a wasted exercise, has won 28 seats. That makes for little less than a third of the assembly. No mean feat when guns and goons are not on the side of the ruling party, as in Bihar and West Bengal. And anti-incumbency rules too. The party managed to win the largest number of seats in the valley, and the second position in Jammu. But the story gets far more stimulating in the accounting of the votes. And therein lies the catch.

A total of 749,825 voters of Jammu and Kashmir state reposed their faith in the National Conference under Omar Abdullah. It was the only party to contest all, but two, of the 87 seats. That gives it a vote share of 28.24 per cent, covering two contesting regions and Kargil district. In the Kashmir valley, the National Conference garnered 36.44 per cent of the vote, and in Jammu 23.88 per cent. The swing away from National Conference in Kashmir was 13.44 per cent, which of course made the difference. And this figure remains important in other calculations as well, misgovernance and anti-incumbency notwithstanding. What is even more remarkable is that the National Conference managed to get virtually the same share of the vote in Jammu as in 1996, barely one-half per cent less at 23.80 per cent.

The closest competitor, in seats and vote share, remains the Congress, but there are interesting tales pertaining to its figures as well. And none more than in the Kashmir valley, where its vote share went down by more than 3 per cent, but its share of seats went up five times. The Congress got a total of 643,751 votes, more than 100,000 less than the National Conference, and managed 20 seats, of which 15 were in Jammu where its vote share went up by more than 10 per cent, to 29.74 per cent. In Kashmir the Congress got 14.73 per cent of the vote, and five seats. But the tale gets even more interesting when deconstructing the share of its alliance partner, the People’s Democratic Party, the latest aspirant to reflecting the will of the public, aka the Kashmiri mood.

In its first election as a political entity, the PDP won 16 seats. Admirable, undoubtedly. Concentrated largely in three districts of the Kashmir valley, the PDP vote translates into 26.31 per cent of regional vote, second only to the National Conference. Impressive, undoubtedly. But take the vote in its entirety, and it comes to more than 500,000 short of the National Conference figure. Its total vote of 246,840 in the whole state represents a mere 9.28 per cent of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

In actuality, the PDP garnered just 19,000 more votes than the Bharatiya Janata Party, and 0.70 per cent more of the state’s total. And the PDP has a chief minister to boot.

The PDP story, however, does not end merely in these figures. The ubiquitous Kashmiri mood can be deciphered from these votes. The swing away in the Kashmir valley from the National Conference and the Congress, anti-incumbency et al, makes up for about 16 per cent of the vote in the agitated region. Being generous to the Mufti’s family, another five per cent can be added as a personal vote, that is one that is influenced by charisma and such factors. The actual personal vote may be less, or more, but in a period of healing touch politics what are a few percentile points' Which still leaves it with another five per cent of the valley vote. And that by all accounts is the vote share, and people’s support, for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Not much more, or less, than that figure.

Which is really not even worth the newsprint that it expends. What should, however, catch more attention is the Jammu vote. To paraphrase what an authority on that region wrote recently, a little more than 54 per cent of the vote cast in Jammu was for parties and candidates who campaigned for either a separate state or a re-organization of the administrative structure. That makes for a lot more than the Hurriyat kind of vote in the valley. Add to that the two unopposed seats won by the Ladakh Union Territory Front, and there is a veritable trifurcation of votes in the state, by a majority at that. So where should the healing touch be applied' Bit much to ask of those who represent merely three districts, but rule the state.

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