The 3-day visit by Home Minister Amit Shah indicated a possible election but no time deadlines. The rest was routine aimed at creating political space by praising a few and criticising others, reports Yawar Hussain
Home Minister Amit Shah’s first major visit to Jammu and Kashmir post reading down of Article 370 in August 2019 had political overtures as it signalled to hold assembly elections four years after his party brought down the BJPDP coalition government. Shah, who addressed two rallies, said in Baramulla that the elections in a “free” and “fair” manner would be held soon after the Election Commission of India (ECI) completes the ongoing electoral rolls upgradation.
Even though he didn’t specify a date, the ECI which currently is carrying out the exercise has set November 25 as the date for publishing the final voter list.
Shah, who also met his Bharatiya Janata Party’s Core Group in Jammu and Kashmir, told them that they should gear up for the elections.
“We have done our job at the governmental level in Delhi. It is now the job of local party leaders and workers to take the message to every nook and corner of Jammu and Kashmir,” a senior BJP leader quoted Shah telling the meeting.
“Some party leaders told Shah that NC is claiming that they are part of Narendra Modi’s mission to which he retorted that they cannot be part of any solution when they are part of the problem.”
Shah, the insiders said told the leaders to focus on the dynastic rule “rhetoric” and the new reservation being granted to Paharis along with no reduction in the quota Gujjar-Bakerwals.
“The Jammu-first agenda is also going to be a poll pitch now for us,” the leader said, adding that Shah told them that the newly political outfits in Jammu and Kashmir aren’t going to be on their election agenda.
The leader quoted Shah saying that now that delimitation has been done and the electoral rolls were almost complete, there was no reason for the central government to delay polls. “Although, he (Shah) said that ECI and security forces would take the final call.”
Shah, who also addressed a rally in Rajouri, said the elections were also delayed because of the process of delimitation which has corrected the historical “wrongs”. “There were 14 assembly seats in Kashmir which were “main families’ seats” (a reference towards Abdullahs, Muftis and Gandhis). These were “island seats” of these families. One part of the seat was here and another part was 14 km away in another village after two seats. I never saw such “luxury seats” in my political career,” Shah told a Jammu newspaper in an interview before flying back. “However, the Delimitation Commission did its work under parameters and restored equality of the segments.”
Shah’s twin speeches drew comparisons between Jammu and Kashmir prior to August 5- ruled by National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress- and the new Naya Kashmir under Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government.
Shah accused NC and PDP of spreading militancy and separatism but was conspicuously silent about the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, Peoples Conference and the newly launched Democratic Azad Party indicating that the future elections would be a battle between the BJP and the two key regional players.
Shah, who targeted the “dynastic” and “corrupt” politics of NC-PDP, asked the crowd in Baramulla to give BJP a chance to rule Jammu and Kashmir. His statement alluded that the election trumpet has been blown in which people have a choice between the Gupkar and Modi models.
Gupkar vs Modi Model
The Baramulla rally titled Jammu and Kashmir Vikas Manch, had political symbols drawn over it from the Rajouri rally, where a day prior Shah had taken on the “corruption” of the Congress, NC and PDP. The rallies organised by the administration were marred by NC’s allegation that none of their three parliamentarians were invited to the programme. Hasnain Masoodi said the Kashmir MPs were clearly discriminated against by not being invited, unlike their Jammu counterparts.
Shah said NC and PDP’s Gupkar model made Jammu and Kashmir a “terror” hub while the Modi model made it a tourist hub. He accused them of furthering their dynastic rule by trampling upon the development of the region along with fanning separatism and militancy.
“The Gupkar model gave us the Pulwama attack and the Modi model set up a hospital worth Rs 2000 crore in Pulwama,” Shah said, briefly pausing as the mosque speakers started reverberating with Azaan, the call for prayers. “The Gupkar model is for stones in hands, closed colleges and machine guns in youth’s hands. The Modi model is implementing Rs 56000 investments on the ground.”
“Let Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah open their ears. What have you given to Jammu and Kashmir in 75 years? Democracy was restricted to 87 legislators and six MPs, we made 30,000 people join the democratic process by taking the electoral process to the grassroots level, from panchayat to tehsil,” Shah said, insisting the three families attracted Rs 15000 crore investment in 70 years. He got the bullet-proof screen removed before taking over the podium to have direct eye contact with the audience. “In just three years, Rs 56000 crore investment has come to J&K. One lakh homeless people were provided homes for the first time. We got IIT, AIIMS, NIT, NIFT, additional medical colleges and nursing colleges.”
Shah said around 42,000 ordinary people have died in Kashmir due so far. “Not a single politician’s son has died. Who is responsible for 42,000 deaths? The Muftis and Abdullah,” he said.
In Rajouri, Shah blamed the three families for corruption. He said the people are now getting health insurance coverage of Rs 5 lakh under the Ayushman Bharat scheme because earlier the three families were siphoning that money for their own coffers.
As Shah flew home, Kashmir parties hit back. NC even issued a list of its “achievements”. Mehbooba Mufti, along with her father were both chief ministers with BJP support, said that Shah had dedicated his speech to only answering her questions because he had “nothing” to show. “Mufti (Sayeed) was chief minister for just three and a half years since 1947,” Mehbooba said while reacting to Shah’s charge that Jammu and Kashmir had suffered under her family’s rule.
Omar Abdullah, who was once a minister in BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, reminded Shah that the Pulwama attack happened when Governor Satya Pal Malik was running the administration under Delhi’s direct rule. He asked Shah to explain why Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited the Gupkar “gang” leaders for an all-party meeting in 2021.
The visits, allegations and counter allegations, only turned the atmosphere more political canvassing that the elections are in the offing.
The politics around the inclusion of Paharis into the Schedule Tribe fold was addressed by the Shah who promised the community that they would get the reservation after the Jagdish Sharma Commission’s recommendations on the matter go through the administrative exercise. Tactfully, he calmed down the Gujjar-Bakerwal community members telling them that their reservation quota would not dilute.
“There are vested interested politicians who are creating a wedge between the Gujjar-Bakerwal and Pahari communities. They are telling Gujjar-Bakerwals that their quota wouldn’t be cut but I assure you that not even 1 per cent would be taken away,” Shah told an anxious crowd in Rajouri.
In Baramulla, Shah blamed the NC-PDP and Congress for trampling upon the rights of the Paharis and Gujjar-Bakerwals. He said that the ST Atrocities act along with tribal reservation was only awarded by the Modi government after August 5.
“Home Minister’s assertions are at odds with the reality,” PAGD spokesperson Yousuf Tarigami pointed out. “The Tribal population got ST status in 1991when Articles 370 and 35-A were intact. These provisions never stymied the progress of any community.”
Cosying Up To BJP
While Shah hit out at NC-PDP, the parties witnessed dissension in their ranks. PDP’s District President Rajouri Tazeem Dar and senior NC leader Shafqat Mir, who both met Shah in Jammu, gave assurances to the Home Minister that they would join BJP if their community gets ST status.
NC’s former Karnah lawmaker Kafeel-ur-Rehman actually mobilised people of his area to join Shah’s Baramulla rally. Rehman said he told his leaders that the tribe (Pahari) comes ahead of the party. He said that he asked his people to go to the rally because they have fought a long arduous fight for the ST status.
“I attended a meeting called in this regard by Muzzafar Hussain Baig. My politics and every other thing are only meaningful if my tribe prospers,” Rehman said.
The cosying comes on the heels of NC’s old-time Pahari leader, Mushtaq Bukhari deserting the party to join the BJP. Another NC leader Rafiq Shah from Kupwara also openly gathered people for the Home Minister’s visit with his party turning a blind eye.
In a similar message, PDP’s erstwhile Deputy Chief Minister, Muzzafar Hussain Baig also appealed to his supporters to join Shah’s rally and seek justice from him. Baig had been silent on the Pahari ST inclusion issue till Shah’s visit was scheduled. His wife, Safeena, who now heads the PC’s Women’s Wing and DDC Baramulla, shared the stage with Shah.
Shah, however, met no political party barring Ataf Bukhari’s Apni Party. In another interesting development, Shah who hit out at Congress and NC-PDP avoided targeting Ghulam Nabi Azad. “It is good that he (Azad) is now not a part of “three families”,” Shah told in the interview, later.
It triggered a Congress reaction, however. “Was telling continuously to the people of my state that Democratic Azad Party is a creation of BJP,” Viqar Rasool Wani, who heads the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir said. “Now Amit Shah Ji has opened the 2nd page of my dictionary. Will open remaining pages at an appropriate time.”
Several members of the protesting Gujjar-Bakerwal Youth Welfare Conference (JKGBYWC) surprisingly met Shah including the spokesperson Guftar Choudhary. Choudhary accompanied newly nominated BJP Rajya Sabha member Ghulam Ali Khatana who also belongs to the same community. JKGBYWC District President Poonch Waqar Bania also welcomed the Home Minister indicating a softness in the stance.
Amid the political bickering, the JKAP’s and Democratic Azad Party’s core agenda, statehood, wasn’t even mentioned by Shah in either of the two speeches. However, Bukhari led a delegation, that presented a memorandum to Shah with statehood as the focal point.
Bukhari later said that Shah promised them that the statehood would be restored after the assembly elections. The government had promised statehood at the time of reading down Art 370. DAP, however, avoided any kind of reaction.
Interestingly, Shah avoided mentioning Kashmiri Pandit migrants in his speech and Congress pointed out the “silence” particularly in the wake of the killings of the Pandit community members this year.
“Why Home Minister was silent on problems faced by PM package KP migrants, issues like Unemployment Ratio in J&K, Restoration of State, Economic Blockade, Innocent Killings, Selection Scams, issues of CLs working in various departments, Powers to PRIs & ULBs under 73rd & 74th amendments,” former Congress state president G A Mir asked.
Added Viqar: “Government’s claims of decimating terrorism, are contrary to the J&K Police data as per which 350 terror incidents have been reported in J&K including the brutal target killings of Rahul Pandit and Rajni Bala.” He said that peace is nowhere visible while Kashmiri migrants continue craving for their rehabilitation, and no safe and secure atmosphere has been provided to the minorities in Kashmir.
Kashmiri Pandit Sangarsh Samiti, a Pandit organisation said, “First time local Kashmiri Pandits were given no space to meet Home Minister. Is this deliberate or just coincidence?”
“People who ruled J&K for 70 years are saying we should talk to Pakistan. Why should we talk to Pakistan? We will not talk,” Shah said in Baramulla. “We will talk to the Gujjar-Bakerwals and Paharis. We will talk to the youth of Kashmir.”
Shah said that people who talk about Pakistan should come forward and sit down with his people who will inform them that the other Kashmir across the LoC doesn’t even have basic amenities. “We have ensured, in the last three years, that all villages in Kashmir have electricity connection.”
Shah stance comes in stark contrast to the official stance adopted by New Delhi at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January 2022, where it maintained that Kashmir was a “bilateral issue” between the two countries. The rejection of any talks with Pakistan comes on the heels of the Peoples Democratic Party urging the Union government to engage with Pakistan.
Shah asserted that the Modi government would wipe out militancy from Jammu and Kashmir and make it the most peaceful place in the country. Modi government, he said, has waged a full-blown campaign against the Hurriyat and militancy. “There used to be news of stone pelting every day. Does that still flash on the news channels?”
Amid the no-talks policy with Pakistan, Shah chaired a security grid meet in Srinagar directing the force’s top brass to step up anti-militancy operations to make J&K “militancy free” so that people taste the real democracy and reap the benefits of peace.
Shah was given a PowerPoint presentation on the progress achieved on the anti-militancy and anti-infiltration front.
The meeting also discussed the challenges related to social media including “online propaganda” being launched by handlers sitting across, to which the Home Minister stressed, “adopting a sustained counter mechanism” that includes blocking the pages trying to radicalise youth through online platforms.
A source said that the usage of drone technology to drop weapons from across the border was also discussed in the meeting along with “hybrid” militancy.
On the last leg of his tour, Shah paid a surprise visit to the Chatti Padshahi Sikh Gurdwara in the Rainawari (Srinagar). Accompanied by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu and some BJP leaders, Shah also interacted with devotees at the Gurdwara. Shah had visited the Mata Vaishno Devi temple in Katra, just a day before coming to the Valley.
At Srinagar Raj Bhawan, Home Minister also handed over appointment letters to the family of four Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel who were killed on duty. With this, officials said, the families of the 24 people killed have received appointment letters from the home minister.
On March 18, 2022, Shah handed over appointment letters in Jammu to the family of four Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel who were killed in the valley.
In October 2021, during his first visit to Jammu and Kashmir after the reading down of Article 370, Shah met the family members of Inspector Parvaiz Ahmad in Nowgam. Ahmad was also killed by militants. The home minister had handed over the appointment letter for a government job to Ahmad’s family.
Shah also visited the family of policeman Mudasir Sheikh who was killed in an encounter in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir earlier this year.
“He had the route changed and went all the way through the tough route to meet the martyred family,” officials said. Later, the union Home minister visited Sheikh’s graveyard as well. Sheikh, an SPO, was killed in an encounter at Najibhat Crossing in Kreeri, Baramulla.
At Raj Bhawan, the minister met 19 delegations from different sectors including Mehraj-ud-Din Rather (Political Activist), Abrar Ahmad President (Batamaloo Trade Union), Javid Beigh (Politician); Mubashir Ahmad (President of Kashmir Pashmina Organization); Javed Burza (Hotelier); Sanjay Saraf (Politician); Sameer Ahmad Baktoo (President Eco-Tourism); Rouf Tramboo (President Adventure Tourism); Nasir Shah (Chairman Tourism Alliance); Ajit Singh (Chairman All JK Transport); Bilal Parray (Politician), Farooq Renzu Shah Retired Civil Servant); Bashir Ahmad (President of Fruit Growers Association) and Shahid Kamili President of Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir). Singer, Gulzar Ganie and Sheikh Ashiq President KCCI also met the Home Minister.