Jammu and Kashmir is not just a state, it is a dichotomy. Nothing illustrates this better than the contrasting fortunes of the BJP in the two regions. Jammu is an old saffron fortress, and the BJP will be going ahead with the predictable, emotive themes it uses elsewhere—‘national security’ has a high resonance in this border region, and the Modi factor plays right into that. Add the “deportation of Rohingya Muslims”, and you have it pat. In Kashmir, though, the party finds itself unable to mouth the hawkish slogans about Kashmir that it deploys nationally—issues like the removal of Articles 370 and 35-A—so it presents a more moderate face. But when even homegrown parties like the National Conference and the PDP find their popular acceptability shrinking, can India’s most hardline party have any traction at all?
One finds the three BJP candidates from the Valley—Khalid Jehangir, Sofi Yousuf and Maqbool War—restricting their rhetoric to the “developmental agenda”, citing a lot of initiatives by the BJP as part of the coalition that ruled J&K for four years. “We have given five lakh gas connections in the Valley,” says 59-year-old War. Jehangir, 43, says it was only the PDP’s “divisive agenda” that derailed its schemes.
This is a case-study of an extreme situation, of course. The BJP’s voteshare in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls was around 1.4 per cent. It hasn’t won any assembly or parliamentary seat in the Valley’s electoral history. It did win 100 wards in the civic polls last October, which saw the lowest turnout ever (1.6 per cent) with only 660 of the total 40,004 voters in 20 municipalities across the four south Kashmir districts of Shopian, Kulgam, Anantnag and Pulwama turning up. A boycott by the PDP-NC meant 76 wards had no other candidates. The Shopian municipal committee is now headed by the BJP—it actually imported candidates from Jammu! Jehangir, who says the turnout will be higher this time as the big parties are contesting, may take on Farooq Abdullah. “I will bridge the gap between Delhi and Srinagar,” he says, bullishly. But a rally on March 14 left BJP leaders like national vice-president Avinash Rai Khanna embarrassed. The thin attendance was one thing—worse, the BJP workers who did land up hid their faces from cameras.
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar