Shah is personally supervising his party’s first-ever attempt to install a Hindu Chief Minister in Jammu and Kashmir. BJP leaders and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre are already working overtime to achieve the impossible.
At a recent meeting to induct Moti Kaul, President of the All India Kashmiri Samaj into the BJP, Shah told leaders from the state, “I’m not so concerned about the other states where elections are being held. We are winning in those states in any case. I want you to devote all your energy on winning Jammu and Kashmir. Imagine the message that would go around the world, if we succeed in installing a BJP leader as the democratically elected chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.”
BJP leaders are gung-ho about being able to fulfil their president’s mission. Dr Nirmal Singh, member of the BJP’s National Executive and the Chairman of the Election Campaign Committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections told the India Today Group, “BJP is going to create history in these elections.
Prime Minister Modi’s slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ has caught the imagination of the voters in the state who are fed up with the National Conference-Congress government, which has delivered nothing except corruption and under development. Mission Kashmir is not just a slogan, we are soon going to turn it into reality. Nobody thought BJP will win well over 272 seats nationally. We will once again prove everyone wrong. Amit Shah has already shown what he is capable of in Uttar Pradesh.”
In the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, the BJP led in 30 of the 37 Assembly segments in Jammu and three of the four in Ladakh. Shah’s necessary first step is to ensure that the BJP wins as many as possible of the 41 seats in these two regions. In the last Assembly elections held in 2008, the BJP had won only 11 of the 37 seats in the Jammu region, and none of the 46 seats in the Kashmir valley or the four in Ladakh.
But the recent Lok Sabha results have given reason for cheer. If the BJP is able to replicate its Lok Sabha performance in the Assembly Elections, the party will end up with a substantial 33 seats in the 87-seat Assembly and most likely emerge as the single largest party in the case of a fractured mandate. But the BJP is not relying only on Jammu and Ladakh. Shah aspires to make a dent in the Muslimmajority Valley as well.
Before they were hounded out of the valley in the early nineties, there were 2.5 lakh registered Kashmiri Pandit voters who were numerically significant in at least eight of the 46 seats of the Kashmir Valley. BJP leaders and RSS workers have embarked on a massive enrolment campaign to get Kashmiri Pandits to vote from no matter where they are settled in the country. Door-to-door enrolment is being currently carried out in Jammu, Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, and pockets of Punjab that have heavy concentration of the Pandit community.
Moti Kaul explains the rationale behind the strategy to enrol Pandits. “We estimate that there are currently roughly four lakh eligible Kashmiri Pandit voters settled across the country. But out of these only 126,000 are registered voters. We are going all out to enrol the remaining and have made significant progress despite the state government creating all sorts of obstacles. We hope to get at least 30,000 new voters registered in time for the Assembly elections.”
Kashmiri Pandits have substantial presence in seats like Habbakadal, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Anantnag, Tral (which also has a substantial Sikh population), Amirakadal, Sopore and Khanyar. In seats like Habbakadal, the voting percentage was as low as 11. The average voting percentage in the last Assembly Elections was in the low thirties. Kashmiri Pandits constitute more than 10 per cent of the electorate in these constituencies, and can significantly alter voting dynamics.
The BJP leadership is in touch with several prominent leaders who have a strong support base and are unhappy in their present parties. In the past few weeks many senior state level leaders have been already been inducted into the BJP (see graphic). The strategy of giving tickets to prominent rebels worked well for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, and Shah now hopes to replicate the tactic.
To boost its post-poll position, the BJP is also looking at forging different kinds of tactical understandings with some of the smaller regional players in the state. Seat sharing talks are on with the Panther’s Party of Dr Bhim Singh. BJP leaders are also in touch with the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust, which has pockets of influence in Ladakh. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Khomeini Trust performed exceedingly well in Kargil and Zanskar. The trust’s candidate lost to BJP’s Thustan Chhewang on the Leh seat by just 36 votes in the May Lok Sabha elections.
BJP chief Amit Shah The BJP also hopes to strengthen and indirectly benefit from the performance of the Awami Ittehad Party of Engineer Sheikh Abdur Rashid and Sajjad Lone’s J&K People’s Conference.
Set up in June 2013, the Awami Ittehad Party won by more than 20,000 votes in the Lok Sabha elections in the Baramulla and Anantnag seats. Former separatist Sajjad Lone’s party is emerging as a force to reckon with and is slated to do well in least five seats in the Valley. The better the Ittehad and People’s Conference do, the more they are likely to damage the prospects of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP and Omar Abdullah‘s National Conference.
While the BJP is yet to officially kick off its campaign in J&K, alarm bells are already ringing in other political parties who fear that the BJP’s tactics will end up further polarising the electorate in the state. Devendar Rana of the National Conference, who is also the Political Advisor to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, said, “In a democracy the will of the people shall prevail. Jammu and Kashmir is not Uttar Pradesh. I just hope that politics of polarisation is not played in Jammu and Kashmir because that could lead to a catastrophe.” PDP spokesperson Dr Sameer Kaul said, “Electorally what the BJP is trying to is impossible to achieve. This is a Muslim majority state. This attempt is polarising and divisive. It will only lead to disruption and disorder.” Other experts are worried too.
Renowned academic and political historian Siddiq Wahid said, “A lot will depend on the kind of campaign that the BJP will run. Jammu and Kashmir politics is a lot more complex than what the BJP thinks. If their campaign ends up polarising the state it can be very damaging.”
Given the BJP’s track record in Jammu and Kashmir any talk of the party emerging as the single largest in the state seems farfetched. However, given the electoral miracle that Amit Shah was able to pull off in Uttar Pradesh and considering how seriously he is pushing Mission Kashmir, no one can afford to dismiss the BJP President’s plan as a mere pipedream, even though it is only a plan as of now.
The party hopes to consolidate its vote-base after the tough line taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing Jawans in Ladakh and also from the decision to call off talks with Pakistan.