Months after it came to power in 2019 with a massive mandate, the Bharatiya Janata Party scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and downsized it from a state to a Union territory.

Five years later, the anger against that decision appears to echo in the Lok Sabha results from the region – the first major election held in the region after the abrogation of Article 370.

Sensing that discontent, the party did not contest any of the three seats in Kashmir Valley. However, the BJP’s appeal to voters not to choose the Congress and Kashmir’s mainstream parties, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, was rejected.

The saffron party’s most significant loss came from the cold desert region of Ladakh, which it had won in both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Though a portion of the Union territory had initially celebrated the decisions of August, 2019, a people’s movement demanding constitutional protections and statehood for the ecologically fragile region turned the tide against the BJP.

The only comfort for the BJP came from Jammu, its traditional bastion, where it retained its 2019 tally of two seats.

National Conference scores big

The National Conference, which contested as part of the Opposition INDIA bloc, emerged the victor in Kashmir Valley, winning two out of three seats by a huge margin.

At 5 pm, in Srinagar parliamentary seat, the party’s Aga Ruhullah Mehdi had a lead of more than 1.85 lakh votes over Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, a close aide of Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti.

In Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary seat, whose cartography was massively altered during the delimitation process in 2022, the National Conference’s decision to field an influential Gujjar leader Mian Altaf proved key to its victory.

Following the delimitation process, six assembly segments of Jammu’s Rajouri and Poonch districts were added to the Lok Sabha seat, making the Gujjar and Bakerwal tribals key to this contest.

Altaf was in direct contest with ex-chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti.

At 5 pm, Altaf had polled more than 5 lakh votes – the highest votes a candidate has got in the entire Kashmir Valley. Mufti was trailing behind Altaf with approximately 2.38 lakh votes.

‘Vote against victimisation’

The surprise result came from North Kashmir’s Baramulla seat, where an independent candidate, Abdul Rashid Sheikh, defeated National Conference vice-president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah.

Sheikh, who is popularly known as Engineer Rashid, emerged in the race for Baramulla from nowhere. In jail since August 2019 in a terror-funding case, the former legislator’s entry into the contest had electrified the contest in North Kashmir.

Leading the campaign, the jailed lawmaker’s sons had appealed to voters to cast their ballot in his favour so that he may be able to walk free.

“If four lakh people vote for my father, it will send a message to every corner of India that my father is not a criminal,” Abrar Rasheed, his son, had told Scroll in May. “A criminal wouldn’t get such support.”

A political analyst in Srinagar, who did not want to be identified, said Rashid’s victory was “a vote against victimisation of Kashmiris and their sentiments.”

Kargil takes the lead

When the National Conference and Congress failed to reach an agreement on a joint candidate in Ladakh ahead of elections, the district president of National Conference in Kargil, Mohammad Haneefa Jan, decided to quit the party along with the entire unit of the party.

Banking on the support of two influential religious schools in Muslim-majority Kargil, Jan filed his nomination as an independent candidate.

Both of his opponents were from the Leh district of the Union territory – the BJP’s Tashi Gyalson and the Congress’s Tsering Namgyal.

However, given Ladakh’s electoral history and regional divide, Jan’s victory was certain as most of the votes from Kargil were expected to be polled in his favour. In Leh, on the other hand, the vote got divided between the BJP and Congress candidates.

While Jan secured more than 64,000 votes, Namgyal scored more than 35,000 votes while BJP’s Gyalson gathered approximately 31,000 votes.

There is a reason all the candidates attracted a substantial number of votes. During the campaign, all three candidates, including that of BJP, spoke about the constitutional protections and statehood to Ladakh.

With BJP failing to fulfil that promise even though it has been in power at the Centre since 2019, the people of Ladakh seem to have had their say.