As expected, the Jammu and Kashmir elections have given way to a fractured verdict, with the four main contenders being grouped in an 18%-23% vote share bracket. The Bharatiya Janata Party is a clear winner but only in one half of the state – all its candidates barring one in the Kashmir Valley having lost their deposits. The BJP sweep in Jammu is decisive, with 41% of vote share and 25 seats out of 37.

The surprise of these elections is perhaps the resilience of the Congress, which practically without campaigning maintained its 2008 vote share (18%), while losing five seats. Omar Abdullah’s National Conference continued to dip and is the main loser of these elections.

Once again, the recipe for success of the BJP lies in its ability to bypass its own local organisation and to re-assemble otherwise-dispersed voters – many non-aligned with mainstream parties – around a core electorate largely defined by class and religion.

 Record turnout

The J&K elections saw a record turnout of 69.5%, with substantial increases in all three sub-regions. Participation crossed the 80% bar in Jammu for the first time.

Many speculated that the increased turnout was an attempt to prevent the BJP from winning. While we cannot rule out the fact that some voters were motivated by this goal, the distribution of the turnout increase across sub-regions and the contrasted performance of the BJP don't allow this to be to identified as the main factor.

 Candidates and parties

As noted earlier, the BJP benefited from the consolidation around mainstream parties. Previous assembly elections have revealed that voters tend to concentrate their votes on the main parties, which are  likely to win, rather than lose their vote on tiny formations and improbable independent candidates. Everywhere in India, the vote share received by independent candidates and candidates from small parties is also low, to the benefit so far of the BJP, which usually does not suffer from a position of incumbency.

Through the years, the number of contestants per seat has greatly varied. Jammu and Kashmir is one the rare state where seats have occasionally been won uncontested, by a unique candidate. Contrary to most other states that have been to the polls recently, the total number of candidates and contesting parties has slumped in 2014, confirming the consolidation trend.

The main loser in these elections is the National Conference which, with a 3% decline in vote share, loses nearly half its seats to fall to 15. All the lost votes and seats came from Jammu. In Kashmir, it actually increased its vote share by 1%.

The performance of the Peoples Democratic Party was a mirror image of the NC: it got 36.6% of the vote in the Kashmir valley, but only 11% in Jammu.

The Congress got five seats less than in 2008, for an identical performance in terms of votes gained.

With the BJP and the PDP at 23%, the four main contenders are all in a five-point bracket.

 Jammu vs Kashmir

The two winners – BJP and PDP – scored in a reversed mirror image.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is noted for the contrast in politics between Jammu and the Kashmir Valley. The 2014 assembly elections confirm this long-established trend while shifting the balance of power on both sides.

All the BJP’s gains are concentrated in Jammu and marginally in the four constituencies of Ladakh. The saffron party gained 41% of vote share and swept 25 seats out of 37, with 41% of the votes. On the other side, the PDP won 25 of the 48 votes of the Kashmir valley with 36.6% of the votes.

The BJP’s blip in the Kashmir valley is explained by the scores of its lone runner-up candidate in Habba Kadal, who is the only saffron candidate who did not lose his deposit in the region.

The divide is not just geographic but religious too. The BJP fielded 30 Muslims out of 75 candidates, predominantly in the Kashmir Valley (20). Only one was victorious, in Kalakote, and only one other came in as a runner-up. Most BJP Muslim candidates came between the fourth and sixth position and all barring the two mentioned lost their deposits. This indicates that if Modi’s core electorate may sway for its governance and development appeal, they’re not yet ready to vote for Muslim candidates in order to support his agenda.


The conventional wisdom in politics maintains that a party’s advance into an unfamiliar terrain is a progressive one, building a presence brick by brick, election after election. The BJP disproves that wisdom by systematically fielding new faces and even discarding their incumbents MLAs. Call it the Amit Shah technique, bulldozing the party’s often-decrepit local organisation to transfuse it with fresh blood. Thus, only two of the 11 BJP MLAs elected in 2008 were allowed to run again. Overall, while more than half of the sitting MLAs actually ran again, the new assembly contains less than a quarter of re-running incumbents.

 Who are the BJP MLAs?

The BJP’s ticket-distribution strategy in recent state elections has been to bypass its existing organisation and cadres to field candidates hand-picked for their “winning potential”. This has meant that the BJP has fielded many new faces, or first-time contestants, discarding as much as 11 incumbent MLAs out of 13 elected in 2008. A vast majority of the BJP candidates were fresh contestants – only 29 out of 75 had previously contested an election, on a BJP ticket or another one. However, those who had contested earlier on BJP tickets had a greater probability than others – including those “lifted” from other parties – of being elected.

 The road ahead?

The BJP is in the comfortable position of wait and watch, since the prerogative of attempting to form a government belongs to the largest party in the assembly – the PDP. From its vantage point, practically all configurations are good, from a PDP minority government supported from outside by the BJP to a fragile coalition, or a hung assembly leading to Presidents’ Rule. The next few days will reveal how the PDP will extricate itself from what could become a Pyrrhic victory.