Elected thrice to Lok Sabha and twice to assembly, Prof Chaman Lal Gupta was BJP’s towering leader who was respected by all Kashmir parties. However, his direct involvement in cross-voting in the assembly had rendered the powerful right-wing politician to the sidelines, writes Zahoor Malik
Having been a strong face of BJP in Jammu for a long time, Prof Chaman Lal Gupta, who passed away recently, faced an uncomfortable era in the last years of his political career. It was because of the cross-voting scandal in the state assembly in 2011 during the election of some vacant seats in the legislative council that BJP was caught voting for the opposition.
Prior to that Prof Gupta was elected to Lok Sabha thrice from Udhampur and represented the main Udhampur assembly segment twice in the state assembly. Other than holding two portfolios, Gupta was also the MoS (defence) in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government from 2002 to 2004.
With a strong Jan Sangh and RSS background and with his hard work, he created a niche for himself in the political circle of Jammu. Prof Gupta also headed the state BJP for some time.
Despite political differences, he was being publicly respected by leaders like Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar Abdullah. Because of his stature he had a strong say in their governments.
But things became politically unfavourable for him in April 2011 when he was the leader of the BJP legislature party in the assembly. Then, Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by Omar Abdullah as head of the NC-, Congress coalition. BJP had 11 MLAs in the assembly and elections were held to fill some vacant seats in the legislative council. Seven BJP MLAs including Prof Gupta allegedly went against the party whip and voted for the ruling coalition candidate.
This resulted in the BJP candidate getting only four votes out of the 11 party votes. This embarrassed BJP and Rajnath Singh who was in Srinagar could not hide it in a presser.
The then BJP president Nitin Gadkari ordered an in-house inquiry, which found Prof Gupta and six other BJP MLAs involved in cross-voting. All the seven MLAs were expelled and Prof Gupta was replaced by Jugal Kishore as the leader of BJP legislators.
Jugal sent a notice to the then assembly speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone asking him to disqualify the seven expelled BJP MLAs from the assembly as per rules. The expelled lawmakers approached the High Court challenging Jugal’s notice for disqualification. In response, Lone continued saying that he had reserved his decision on the notice of Jugal but never announced his verdict. Later the speaker kept on saying that since the matter was in High Court, he did not want to influence the proceedings of the court and would, instead, wait for the court verdict.
Since the decision lingered on in court and assembly, Prof Gupta and his six colleagues completed their term as lawmakers and continued taking part in the proceedings. Technically two groups of BJP existed in the assembly and the divided house of BJP provided an advantage to the Omar Abdullah government. The results were obvious as BJP could not play the role of strong opposition.
The cross-voting scandal caused a detent to the image of seven BJP legislators, particularly to Prof Gupta. Even as they voted for the NC-Congress candidate, the members of treasury benches would target them whenever they would try to criticise the government. The treasury bench members would often remind the speaker to give the status report of disqualification notice of Jugal Kishore.
Return To BJP
With the passage of time, the central BJP leadership also realised the negative effects of their divided house in the assembly. As the assembly was about to complete its term and fresh assembly polls were nearing, a patch up occurred with some of the leaders, who had taken part in the cross-voting. Prof Gupta returned to BJP in November 2014. BJP leaders welcomed him back with the announcement that his return will help the party to get 44 plus seats and an absolute majority in the assembly. However, Prof Gupta remained almost off the political scene and because of his illness later halted his political activities.
In the subsequent assembly polls, however, it was the Modi magic, which helped the BJP to sweep the Jammu region almost completely. Not the stature of local BJP leaders but Modi mattered in the elections. PDP and BJP formed the coalition government in the state with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as Chief Minister and later, after his death, Mehbooba Mufti.
Now whenever the next assembly polls are held in Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi factor will again dominate Jammu politics more particularly in the backdrop of the abrogation of Article 370. The region does not need local party leaders to do something big for their party in polls as the Prime Minister himself has already done the job for them.
During the BJPDP rule, the BJP leaders got the chance of getting connected with Kashmiri politicians. But after the collapse of the coalition, there is a total disconnect. The party lacks leaders like Prof Gupta who on a personal level had established a rapport with leaders in Kashmir.