A Panther Without Dots

After sweeping small regional parties out of politics in mainland India, BJP bulldozed a few in Jammu and Kashmir too.  With Bhim Singh’s Panther’s Party failing to retain even a single seat the future of this small regional party seems to be in danger. Syed Asma reports

Bhim Singh
Bhim Singh

It performed its best in the election – 2002 and gained the limelight. A party then 20 year old, Jammu Kashmir Panther’s Party (PP), won four seats in Jammu defeating bigger parties like Bhartiya Janta Party and Indian National Congress.

But this time over they succumb because of their poor performances and fell prey to the massive country wide Modi wave. PP could not retain any seat in Jammu division and was made to taste dust in the recent assembly elections.

In Udhampur, PP’s Balwant Singh Mankotia lost by a margin of 14, 650 votes to an independent candidate Pawan Kuman Gupta. While as in Samba (SC) PP’s Yash Paul Kundal was defeated by a margin of 22,118 votes to BJP’s Devinder Kumar Manyal. A similar trend was followed in Ramnagar where PP’s Harsh Dev Singh was defeated by a margin of 17,420 votes by Ranbir Singh Pathania representing BJP.

Pertinently, they lost Chenani to Indian National Congress in election 2008.

“We are too little to stand in front of the magnanimous campaigning that BJP did. They brought Prime Minister of the country to campaign for them,” says Balwant Singh Mankotia, a PP face in Udhampur and a former MLA.

Though, we expected bad results, he adds, but not to this extent. “People attended our rallies, showed their support but silently voted for BJP which was unexpected.”

PP, a regional political party in Jammu became prominent after 2002 elections and probably gained confidence after they retained 3 of 4 seats in 2008 elections. They won Udhampur, Ramnagar and Samba (SC) and lost Chenani.

PP came into being in 1982 when Bhim Singh, the PP patron, parted ways with Indian National Congress and floated his own party to oppose Sheikh Abdullah’s J&K Resettlement Act.

Having a degree of LLM from the University of London, Bhim Singh entered into the Legislative house first time as a Congress man in 1977. Even after resigning from Congress he managed to retain his seat in Chenani in 1983. It was seen as one of his achievements because the then Congress supremo, Indira Gandhi, had come personally to the constituency and campaigned against him.

But it is said that Bhim Singh could not gather likeminded people who could help him to strengthen the roots of Panther’s party in Jammu.

In 2002, when Balwant Singh Mankotia, a local from Udhampur won a seat in there, he cashed in on the anti-BJP sentiment. It is believed that the poor governance of BJP’s Pawan Kumar Gupta and Shiv Charan Gupta, consecutive MLA’s, helped Singh to gain votes in 2002 elections. Singh, a graduate with a diploma in mass communication and journalism won by a margin of 20 per cent votes. But he proved no different than his predecessor.

Still, in 2008, people showed patience and chose him again. After repeating what BJP’s Guptas did, people in the recent elections looked for a new resort and preferred an independent candidate over Mankotia.

Yashpaul Kundal won from Samba (SC) in 2002. A young boy from a modest background, belonging to a BPL family in Samba became an MLA of the area. “He is a rich man today and an owner of lot of property,” says a journalist and a political commentator wishing anonymity. “He rather than thinking of the betterment of people thought of his own benefits.”

Similarly, in 1996 when Harsh Dev Singh won for the first time from Ramnagar it is said that he gained the sympathetic votes as his father had recently died.

Locals say that he initially worked on a few development projects in the area but as he became confident about his presence in the area he started manipulating the projects.

Locals allege that he used to create his own contractors in order to grab more share in the funds of the state and central projects. This increased resentment of locals against him.

“We gave them a lot of time to work but they did not, so we preferred change,” says a local Hindu voter from Ramnagar.

Local even accuse Harsh Dev of favouring his own Rajput clan and ignoring the rest. The resentment grew and finally people of Ramnagar rejected him in the ballots. The people of Ramnagar preferred to go with the country wide Modi wave and chose Ranbir Singh Pathania representing BJP.

But Bhim Singh, the party patron, after winning not a single seat opines that there has been manipulation of the EVM’s in the state.

In a recent statement Singh says, “Manipulation of EVMs and programming it to the convenience of the interested parties having absolute control over the machine and its physical handling suggest that it is only because of this reason that poll has been recorded over 80 per cent.”

Adding, “The use of EVMs has discredited the parliamentary democracy particularly when the ruling class is a party to the polls.”

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