Sangh On Sale

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The BJP won a historic mandate in Jammu – 11 of the 87 seats in 2008 state elections after enforcing an economic blockade on the rest of the state during Amarnath land row. Two years later the BJP lawmakers sold the mandate. A Kashmir Life report.

The BJP leaders protesting against the state government’s decision to not allow the BJP’s youth wing march to enter the state to thrawt their plans of raising the tricolor at Lal Chowk on the eve January 26, 2011.

The language (read Hindi) press is just an indicator of what has happened to the voter in Jammu. It is shock and shame. One newspaper has a protestor holding a caricature of BJP lawmakers with Rs 500 currency notes stuffed into their mouths. Another has coverage of a protest by Shiv Sena activists, carrying banners asking “Kya bjp kay 7mlas 35 karoud mein bikay?” (Did 7 BJP MLAs sell themselves for Rs 35 crore). Another asked, “‘bum bum bolay mein 12 hathiyanoun kay sath mlas nay kitnay paisay mein jamu beacha’ (For how much did they sell Jammu?)

“Bajpa Zameen Par,” (BJP bites dust) was the headline of a newspaper offering details about how the party is seeking resignations from its lawmakers for going against the whip.

People have been caught sleeping with the enemy throughout history. It has also happened in J&K. But never ever did it happen the way BJP thought it can be done. For years they fought against Congress and National Conference (NC) and finally they were caught as their men on call. The 465730 who voted for the party in 2008 are shocked with the behavior of lawmakers.

“They (BJP) were so desperate to talk and talk (with us) that we finally switched off our phones,” said one of the top NC leaders. “It is dirty and nasty. They (BJP) squandered their mandate.”

Weeks ahead of the final fall, the media was suggestive of the possibilities of cross-voting in the state legislative council. As many as six seats fell vacant and the race started among top leaders for becoming the lawmakers. Given the numerical strength of the parties in the state legislative assembly, it was clear that PDP will take one seat and five will go to the ruling coalition. However, if the entire opposition comprising PDP, BJP, PP and CPI (M) would have voted jointly, they would have jointly wrested one Jammu seat from the ruling coalition leaving them with four poll berths.

But threat to coalition did not come from the possible groupings against it. Insiders suggest the crisis was well within the coalition and to a level within the two parties itself. Congress is a divided house. Though there are many factions but two are being recognized at top levels – one led by Ghulam Nabi Azad and another by PCC chief Prof Saif ud Din Soz. When members of the two rival Congress factions – Abdul Gani Vakil, Ghulam Nabi Monga – rushed with their nominations, it just let the tip of the iceberg become visible. There were many others in fray who were not official nominees. But it did introduce a bit of confusion.

Eventually when the parties decided about the persons they need to send in the legislative council, some were forced to withdraw. Among those, quite a few were potential threats. That is where the ruling coalition decided to have safeguards.

Ultimately in the fray were five nominees from the ruling coalition – three from NC and two from Congress, two from PDP and one from BJP – Thakur Ranjit Singh.

The real threat to the parties existed in the loopholes they have left in the system while making the law. Lawmakers in J&K have not amended the Representation of the Peoples Act 1951 to bring it at par with the central law. They have to vote secretly because if they show their choice, the vote becomes invalid. This goes in direct confrontation with the central law that, after an amendment a decade back, envisages the MLAs and MLCs forming the electoral college for Rajya Sabha, president and the vice president, have to vote in open. They have to follow it strictly in accordance with the whips of their parties.

J&K has a very stringent anti-defection law but proving defection by way of cross-voting is a heady and cumbersome exercise. J&K lawmakers listening to the party whips and voting as per their individual choices makes the situation tricky in which horse-trading is possible. Last time it helped an NC heavyweight, Trilochan Singh Wazir, to get elected despite his party lacking adequate votes. Then, an insider said, he got eight votes from the ruling coalition (then Congress-PDP-Panthers Party combine).

After a few reports, the system responded. The security agencies reportedly took over. Monitoring of some “high focus MLAs” started with their telephones under watch and bank accounts under check. A Jammu newspaper reported that four BJP MLAs have assured support to the NC candidate against “a deluge of favours, both personal and political.” Many people did talk about the PDP fielded Jammu transporter Bharat Bushan Khajuria might steal a few pages from his fellow transporter Wazir.

After whips were issued, the party leaders tried their best to remain accessible to their members. Even the chief minister hosted a dinner on the eve of the voting for the coalition. Only a few people knew the voting pattern.

A middle rung officer in the assembly said, “The outcome of the voting was on expected lines.” PDP got one, Congress two and NC three.

“It created a situation (in the assembly after the results were out) that the visibly upset BJP MLAs felt humiliated and delayed their departure from the house,” an officer who witnessed the process said.“I have heard people talking about floor crossing and cross-voting but it was my first experience to see it from a very close quarter.” BJP has 11 members in state’s legislative assembly, the highest number it ever had.

Ruling coalition was supposed to get 53 votes but it got 60 as PDP plus Panthers Party got 24 of which one was rejected. BJP candidate got only four votes as four BJP legislators voted for NC’s Choudhary Noor Hussain and three voted for Congress’s Yashpal Khajuria.

“Coalition wins all the five seats it was supposed to,” tweeted chief minister, Omar Abdullah after the results were announced, adding, “But perhaps not expected to.”

Prior to the polls, there were expectations that the bad blood created within different factions of the Congress might trigger cross voting. Eventually that theory failed as the ruling coalition partner voted strictly as per the party whip. It was apparently in wake of these apprehensions that the ruling coalition had reached a secret understanding with the BJP. The party gave four votes to Congress and three to NC.

It is plain defection,” said a senior officer in the government, adding, “The law is clear that it falls under corruption so they should be treated like that.” But the problem is that the law empowers the party to initiate action and not the system. The party needs to approach the speaker of the assembly to disqualify them.

After the polls, the votes were counted and the records were packed and sent to the office of state’s chief electoral officer. The party can formally approach and seek the CEO’s help in detecting which lawmaker defected. BJP has still four lawmakers with the party!!

It was a Himalayan embarrassment to the party. Under pressure from other members of the Sangh – councillors and corporators are reportedly on hunger strike seeking action – they finally sought resignations from the entire flock after long deliberations. The BJP state president Shamsher Singh Manhas, who was in Srinagar with his central party delegation threatened that either he or the defectors will stay in the party.

J P Nanda, who is party’s general secretary and was part of the meeting announced the resignations have been taken but instead of sending them to the Speaker, they will go to the party president Nitin Gadkari for approval!

Chaman Lal Gupta, the senior most member of the house who has served as a minister in the Atal Behari Vajpyaee government reacted cautiously. He termed the cross voting a “historic blunder” but sees resignations as “no alternative”. “A decision on taking stern action against the (offenders) will be initiated soon after the culprits are identified,” he was quoted saying.

Political pundits do not see it progressing beyond a point. “BJP knows they have lost Jammu so they will ensure the party should not lose their representation in the house till next elections,” said Mohammad Ashraf, a keen watcher of Jammu politics. “It will remain in news for some days and then it will die its own death.”

NC is upbeat. “We taught them (BJP) a lesson,” said an NC heavyweight. “(L K) Advani funded liberally to divide NC by creating PDP and now he might have got the message, his party is wiped out before the masses that mattered for the party.”

BJP sees it differently. They see it as a nexus. “In Jammu, there is not much ideological barrier between Congress and BJP as long as they see Kashmir as a common enemy,” said one leader. “Do not read too much if Mangat Ram Sharma and Chaman Lal Gupta run two different shops, they sell the same stuff.”

On the other side, PDP sees it as “yet another” proof that NC is still not separated from the BJP ever since the party at the centre helped train Omar by taking him as a minister. “They still share the Jammu Municipal Corporation,” they add.

In the hindsight both the parties – NC and PDP – might have their egos satisfied that they have finally avenged a party that disrespected them. At the peak of summer agitation 2008 when NC and PDP leaders flew to attend a meeting with a central delegation the Sangh run Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti (SASS) refused to talk as long as the two leaders were part of the meeting. BJP eventually used the agitation to get a historic mandate squeezing the Congress and the NC.

At the peak of agitation, the local NC leaders were squeezed to mere pigmies as they refused to follow Congress in becoming part of the agitation. Some of them were forced – allegedly by their kin in BJP– to shift their families out of Jammu till the crisis started exhibiting some improvement. “Usually in the evening, crowds would be led to our houses chanting rhymes and dubbing us traitors,” a leader said after the agitation. The scores are settled now – the BJP may survive in the house, it will not sustain the claim to be the representative of the Dogra heartland. The BJP’s losing the ground in Jammu will largely benefit their rival Panthers Party and to a lesser extent the Congress, say political analysts.

But the event has long term implications in the state politics. Squandering of the mandate is not new in J&K. It has been happening for a long time now. But if this is the democracy that the unionists are so keen to sell in Kashmir, why should separatists be interested? If this can happen with BJP, it can also happen with PDP? In fact, there was a serious effort in the first week of April and reportedly there were individuals willing to consider the request. And by the way, if the people on sale are worth condemnation, what about the people who make the purchase?

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