If it can be done in UP why not in JK? The idea has inspired BJP’s think-tank and Modi close aide Amit Shah to chart out an out-of-box strategy for Kashmir. Safwat Zargar identifies seven mantras that BJP hopes will help them get the crown
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) actively started its mission to win majority seats in Muslim dominated Jammu and Kashmir, it has indulged in “tested and intelligently” devised strategies to basket the state in its kitty. However, how far have the tactics helped it, will be known by the end of December, but the poll mood on ground suggests that the BJP, irrespective of winning or losing, is a “worrying factor” that has entered the club of “big players” in regional politics of the state. In the context of J&K, seven identifiable strategies have been employed by the right-wing party to do what it has been striving for, since its existence – crown J&K with saffron.
The strategy has both, its immediate roots, as well as success, sown in Uttar Pradesh. Crafted by a Jain and one of the main faces of Hindu-dominated BJP after Modi, Amit Shah, demographics seems to be first love of Shah. In simple terms, the plan advocates the division of voters on the basis of religion. Same strategy buried decades-old caste politics of UP under the “polarised” rubble. This part of the plan caters to the Hindu dominated seats of Jammu region of the state. The poll results of 2014 Lok Sabha elections showed BJP sweeping Jammu and Ladakh.
Experts and political observers alike, draw the threads of BJP’s success in Lok Sabha polls to the “long but silent” engineering of Amarnath land row and alleged “step-motherly treatment” to Jammu by successive Muslim chief ministers from Kashmir, to create “vote polarisation” in its favour. That BJP is sure of winning majority of seats in Jammu region solely on the Hindu vote won’t be a harsh statement. Statistics show around 20-25 seats in Jammu region which have Hindu population as majority. Decimation of Congress and the rise of Modi, will surely give an edge to BJP’s vote-bucketing capacity.
Playing with Muslim Vote
Focussed primarily on Jammu region, this tactic is aimed at serving the purpose of preventing consolidation of Muslim vote in the assembly seats which have a sizable Hindu population as a minority. There are 10-12 segments in Jammu which are predominantly Muslim but a cursory look reveals five seats of specific nature suited for BJP’s plan; Kishtwar, Doda & Bhaderwah in Chenab region and Kalakote and Rajouri in Pir Panchal region. Interestingly, after former chief minister and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad was unseated by Dr Jitendra Singh of BJP in Lok Sabha elections from Udhampur parliamentary seat, many attributed his loss to the triumph of BJP’s “secular vote division plan.” The dispersion of votes as per assembly segment-wise grounded their claim.
With Hindu vote bank already consolidated, the multi-pronged strategy implemented by BJP in these constituencies includes dividing the secular vote, i.e. Muslim vote among independent and other Muslim candidates. Coining up schism of Gujjar and Pahari populace living in the region is also part of the plan.
BJP has also tied up with a Muslim religious organisation Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind led by Maulana Suhaib Qasmi, which claims to have 16000 clerics as members. In the first week of December, Qasmi said at least 150 clerics are active in Kashmir to “promote Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development mission and create an environment of peace and prosperity.” Qasmi, who was part of the interactive session presided over by senior BJP leader and finance minister Arun Jaitely in Srinagar, also said that “Gujrat riots were a past and it is time to build a better tomorrow.”
Much before the alarm bells of assembly polls were sounded in the state, BJP had begun spilling the beans of its Kashmir strategy. Paradoxically, BJP had its plan devised around the premise of boycott, otherwise a nightmare for New Delhi. For its scheme, the party first identified several constituencies on the basis of two factors; boycott and Kashmiri Pandit migrant votes. Srinagar’s Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal constituencies, whereas Tral and Sopore in South and North Kashmir respectively, sat fit in the plan. The only thing which BJP wished for the strategy to click was boycott. Pro-freedom camp provided that.
Though there were several alterations to the strategy, but the thrust of plan resulted in giving sleepless nights to NC and PDP leaders. With BJP almost knocking at the doors of Muslim seats in Kashmir by fielding Muslim candidates and showing a sign of inclusiveness, the senior party leaders of NC and PDP were seen visiting migrant camps. Those who couldn’t reach the camps arranged cell phone numbers of Pandits and called them. It is a fact that Kashmiri Pandit voters never weighed so much in elections as they are now.
Last month, when separatist-turned-mainstream Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, the meeting hit the headlines of local as well as Indian national dailies. As the details of the meeting started pouring in, Sajad was lashed at by both NC and PDP, and separatists on other side. However, he didn’t pay any heed to it. Instead, he went straight to Handwara, his home town and started campaigning for his party. In following weeks, what Handwara witnessed was a poll buzz rarely seen before.
If Sajad is in BJP’s loop. He is not alone. The amalgam of Awami Mutahida Mahaz comprising – Hakim Mohammad Yaseen, Ghulam Hassan Mir and Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami – was also approached by BJP for post poll support. If reports are believed, the representatives of BJP since Lok Sabha results have met dozens of “key players” in Kashmir politics for support. Even the Grand Mufti Bashir Ud Din was also approached four times. Moreover, a trend of launching new parties in the state ahead of elections has picked up. While any of these parties will hardly be noticed by a voter on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), they are an absorbing recipe for scattering votes.
Getting aware about the nuances and dynamics of situation on ground seems to top the list of BJP’s needs in valley. It has accommodated some of the experienced and “controversial” personnel from security and counter-insurgency network, known for their role in “neutralizing” the armed insurgency. It is in this context, former chief of police from Punjab, P S Gill who is believed to have played an “instrumental role” in counter-insurgency operations during bloody 90s, is now seen congratulating BJP supporters. Retired Inspector General and architect of “dreaded” Special Operation Group (SOG) Farooq Khan joined BJP in front of Modi much before he was sworn in as Prime Minister of India. Khan, who was suspended for his role in Pathribal fake encounter, faced serious allegations of human rights violations during his tenure as head of police.
Former Janata party president and economist Subramanian Swamy’s take on Village Defence Committees (VDCs) and rehabilitation of Pandits by suggesting arming of 10 lakh ex-servicemen to “create an atmosphere conducive for their return to the valley” might not be what BJP has on its agenda. However, calling for strengthening of VDCs and SPOs in the frontier districts of communally restive Poonch, Kishtwar and Doda is bound to keep intact the BJP’s vote bank.
Needless to evaluate the seriousness of the BJP’s interest in the state politics, it has outsourced some of the “best and experienced” minds from the mainland India whose job is as professional as remaining covert. As soon as the BJP triumphed in Maharashtra and Haryana recently, the ‘core team’ of Amit Shah was on its way north. Reports suggest that the team started working on the minute and other specific details of all the 87 assembly constituencies and began sharing the information with its candidates. There is also a special team designated with improving the image and expanding the reach of party on Social Media. Add to this: BJP’s top cadre including Prime Minister Narendra Modi landing on the tarmac of airports of the state again and again. Selling dreams of vikas and rozgaar on “blatant lies” had even prompted Omar Abdullah to say that “BJP and its leadership was ignorant about ground realities in Jammu and Kashmir, and were trying to mislead people with false tales.”
Karyakartas of RSS flocking migrant camps and going door-to-door in Jammu for cementing Hindu votes might not come as a revelation. In fact, the RSS idea of “complete integration of J&K with India” seems to drive these foot soldiers for BJP’s campaigning. BJP is more active in the areas where it is weak and the number of in-charges (Prabharis) in each of these constituencies has been entrusted with ensuring maximum poll participation. That an in-charge at a particular booth is responsible for some 50 votes on a list of allotted votes on a single page is enough evidence about the involvement of BJP and RSS cadre in ongoing assembly elections.
Hardly has any party spent money on campaigning as BJP is doing currently in J&K. From televised advertisements of Modi promising “Gujarat type development” to full-page advertisements of smiling Modi on valley-based newspapers daily, the media-campaigning of other regional players like NC and PDP looks miniscule. Even the family soap operas followed closely by Kashmiri housewives and youngsters are punctuated with Modi’s video capsule of BJP’s “mission 44+.”
Senior leaders of the opposition parties during their lashing at BJP’s “communal policy” have levelled allegations of corruption and buying votes. Pradesh Congress Committee President Saifuddin Soz during an election rally at Bandipora last month said that “many Indian industrialists close to Modi have sent their representatives to Baramulla, Anantnag and other places in the Valley to buy voters.”
Whether the allegation is true or is just an election tactic remains to be seen. But the mass scale mobilization of BJP actively supported by corporate can help in demystifying the “image of Modi.” The often repeated and self-orchestrated twisty line; Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkaar, has already sent Kashmiri voters in droves towards the booths to halt BJP.