by Sajid Raina

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The regional parties, however, are engaged in aggressive labelling and targeting of each other, particularly those perceived to be supported by the BJP. The question of which party will receive direct support from the BJP remains unanswered. 

Pahari delegation from Jammu Kashmir with Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi on August 6, 2022. They said they were assured of reservations ahead of the assembly elections.

After Home Minister Amit Shah addressed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s announcement against contesting Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir during an election rally in Jammu on April 16, the party started working on the other part of the announcement: vote for anybody other than NC and PDP.

The BJP is not rushing to see the lotus bloom in the Valley,” Shah said. “We don’t seek to conquer Kashmir, as our adversaries portray. Our aim is to win the hearts of every Kashmiri.”

Shah had urged voters, especially the youth, to refrain from supporting the National Conference, Congress, and PDP, alleging their involvement in promoting violence and orchestrating fake encounters in Jammu and Kashmir. 

The regional parties, however, are engaged in aggressive labelling and targeting of each other, particularly those perceived to be supported by the BJP. The question of which party will receive direct support from the BJP remains unanswered. 

 BJP’s Shadow Survival In Kashmir?

While the Congress and National Conference contest three seats under the opposition INDIA alliance, the Peoples Democratic Party is running independently. Instead of directing their attacks towards each other, these parties have primarily criticised what they deem as the “B or C teams of BJP”. 

In Jammu, the BJP stands as the primary contender, while in Kashmir, the INDIA bloc is vying for dominance with NC as the front-runner. 

Skipping Contest 

These are the first major elections in Jammu and Kashmir following the scrapping of its special status and statehood in August 2019. Despite claims of transforming Kashmir into a tourism hub and eradicating militancy since then, the party failed to field any candidate in Kashmir for the Lok Sabha elections. This decision surprised Kashmiri political parties, prompting them to capitalise on the situation by labelling their rivals as BJP-backed parties. 

From spearheading a delimitation exercise widely perceived to favour Jammu, the BJP, focusing on its core constituency, then strategically courting various communities through reservations, appeared fully prepared for the Lok Sabha elections in the Valley. The decision to abstain from contesting the first general elections following the abrogation of Article 370 has left many observers baffled. 

Erstwhile JKNC Pahari lawmaker and minister, Mushtaq A Bukhari joined NC. In this photograph, Ravinder Raina, BJP Jammu and Kashmir President is welcoming him into the party in February 2024.

Attacking Rivals 

During every election campaign, Kashmiri politicians often resort to labelling their rival parties as “BJP-backed,” a tactic frequently used to sway voters in Jammu and Kashmir. On April 24, People’s Conference president Sajad Gani Lone accused National Conference (NC) leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of colluding with the BJP to polarise voters along religious lines. 

On April 20, National Conference vice-president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah asserted that despite the BJP not fielding candidates in Kashmir for the Lok Sabha polls, it remains active in the contest through its “B and C teams.” Abdullah made these remarks while labelling other rival parties as being backed by the BJP. 

Omar Abdullah asserted also that the PDP has now become the “C team” of the BJP, following the alleged existence of the “A and B teams”. 

Addressing reporters in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area, Omar, emphasised that to keep communal forces out of power, voters must support the candidates of the INDIA alliance. He urged voters to endorse National Conference candidates for three seats in Kashmir and Congress candidates for two seats in Jammu and one seat in Ladakh. According to him, the remaining parties in Jammu and Kashmir are somehow linked with the BJP. 

On April 24, Democratic Progressive Azad Party chief Ghulam Nabi Azad responded to National Conference leader Omar Abdullah’s allegations, stating that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will determine who the BJP’s B or C teams are. Abdullah had previously accused Azad’s DPAP, Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party, and Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference of being affiliated with the BJP. 

Lal Chowk Sees First Native Politician Rally After 2019 when PDP’s Waheed Parra took a good crowd through the city square while on his way to file nomination for LS polls on April 24, 2024.

“Omar (Abdullah) served as a minister in the BJP government. Mehbooba (Mufti) was the chief minister. I respect both. I have never held a position as a minister, MP, chief minister, or Union minister under the BJP,” Azad remarked during an election campaign in the Anantnag-Rajouri seat. “It’s up to the people to decide who has ties with the BJP and who represents their interests.”

“I am a free man. Ghulam Nabi Azad is and always will be free. I am a ‘Ghulam-e-Nabi’ (devotee of Prophet Mohammad) and no one else’s,” he had said. 

“The Abdullahs meet Modi and Shah in the middle of the night,” he claimed. “They ask for meetings after 11 pm.” Such mutual suspicion plays into the hands of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, and the party appears to be better positioned in terms of its offerings, messaging, and clarity. 

Even Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) President Dr Farooq Abdullah recently called for defeating the BJP and its alleged “B and C teams”. “Time and again, these parties have demonstrated their tacit understanding with the BJP. With each passing day, our stance is validated,” he stated while presiding over a meeting with the constituency in charge of the North Kashmir Parliament seat. 

Dr Farooq emphasised that all these parties would face the same outcome on the voting dates. “I sense that people are preparing to deliver a resounding rebuke to the BJP through the ballot,” he remarked. 

In the 2014 elections, the party campaigned on the platform of ‘Mission 44 plus’, aiming to secure enough seats to form a government independently in the 87-member Assembly. Despite a strong showing, winning 25 seats – its best-ever performance – all victories came from Jammu. 

Emerging as the second-largest party, the saffron party subsequently formed a coalition with the PDP, leading to its first-ever governance of Jammu and Kashmir. 

A New Alliance 

Meanwhile, following Peoples Conference chairperson Sajjad Lone’s outreach to Apni Party for support in north Kashmir’s Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, the Altaf Bukhari-led party extended its backing to Lone setting the stage for a direct contest with National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah. 

PC Chairman Sajad Gani Lone addressing an election rally at Pattan.

Apni Party holds a significant presence in several assembly segments across Baramulla, spanning four districts, which is expected to strengthen Lone’s prospects. 

In addition to Apni Party, the BJP and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Party have also opted not to contest from the Baramulla seat. There is a possibility that both these parties may endorse Lone in the coming days. Meanwhile, Omar has continued to label both Lone and Bukhari as the “B” and “C” teams of the BJP. 

A Complaint

Continuing the trend, the PDP lodged a formal complaint with the Returning Officer (RO), Anantnag, alleging that BJP leaders were “threatening Paharis in the Rajouri-Poonch belt to vote for Altaf Bukhari’s J&K Apni Party”. 

“Our party has submitted a written complaint to the RO, Anantnag, regarding the criminal intimidation by BJP leaders in Rajouri and Poonch, coercing them to vote for the Apni Party or face consequences akin to those in 1947,” a PDP spokesperson stated. 

PDP’s candidate for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat Waheed Parra during a public meeting in Budgam district, accused Altaf Bukhari of supplying spurious pesticides and harassing Jamaat-e-Islami workers, alleging his involvement in fraudulent activities while remaining free despite the recovery of RDX and arms from his vehicle.

Parra questioned Bukhari’s wealth accumulation and accused him of coercing votes through pressure tactics and blackmailing Jamaat-e-Islami workers, emphasising the support PDP is receiving across Kashmir and urging people to vote for leaders who genuinely represent their aspirations 

Sajad Seeks Apology 

Sajad Lone has demanded an apology from his rival, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah, for allegedly misrepresenting his statements during a campaign speech. Lone refuted Abdullah’s claims that he declared himself as affiliated with the BJP, challenging Abdullah to provide evidence to support his accusations.

Meanwhile, the NC, continues to position itself as the primary opponent to Lone in Baramulla, emphasising the battle against “Delhi’s influence” in the region. 

The BJP party’s Jammu and Kashmir chief, Ravinder Raina said, “We are endorsing parties that demonstrate patriotism, work towards Kashmir’s improvement, foster peace and harmony, and are dedicated to serving society. 

Without naming any specific party, he added: “We are supporting those parties that are patriotic and working for the betterment of the people of Kashmir, strengthening peace and brotherhood, and are eager to serve the society.” 

Raina stated that the Congress, NC, and PDP were “enemies of the people of Kashmir… indulging in the politics of hatred,” and aimed to regress J&K back to the days of violence. 

On the contrary, senior BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta defended the party’s election strategy in Jammu and Kashmir as being in the larger national interest. 

JK Apni Party founder Syed Altaf Bukhari at his party headquarters in Srinagar for a presser on April 24, 2024. KL Image Masood Hussain

“We aim for a societal change in Kashmir. We want people to fully integrate into the mainstream. For that, at times, you have to think beyond the vote bank. Our party leadership is forward-thinking,” he said. 

“These days, politicians are only labelling each other as BJP-backed parties, fooling us like in previous elections. First, they played politics on safeguarding Article 370, which is nowhere now. Now, they’ve resorted to this labelling politics again. People should think twice before voting because these leaders lack unity among themselves. What can they do for Kashmir’s future? I have no expectations from them,” remarked Gulam Ahmad Khan, an elderly local from Hazratbal. 

Similarly, in north Kashmir, the trend of BJP backing has even confused voters amidst ongoing election rallies in the Lok Sabha constituency. A group of locals told this writer that they have yet to decide whom to vote for, as in every party campaign, leaders are labelling their rival parties as BJP-backed. 

“We don’t understand which party is not BJP-backed and which is independent. Hardly we can expect anything more from these politicians these days,” remarked Abdul Aziz Mir, a local from Kreeri, Baramulla.

(The author is a journalist. The opinions is personal).


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