BJP president Amit Shah is working on an ambitious plan to install a BJP chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir.
Of all the challenges confronting him, there is one closest to Amit Shah’s heart — Mission Kashmir. The new BJP president is personally supervising an ambitious, never before attempted, master plan to install a Hindu chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir. BJP leaders and RSS cadre are already working overtime to achieve what no one has so far thought possible — having a Hindu elected as chief minister of India’s most contentious state.
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 CM of Jammu and Kashmir.”
To succeed in his Mission Kashmir, Shah is working on a four-pronged strategy.
SHAH’S FOUR-PRONGED MISSION KASHMIR
Consolidate gains registered in Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Ladakh regions.
Massive enrolment campaign of all eligible Kashmiri Pandits.
Break away popular leaders who’re disgruntled with other parties.
Tactical understanding with regional players.
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. PM Modi’s slogan Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas has caught the imagination of the voters of the state who are fed with the NC-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 272+ seats nationally. We will once again prove everyone wrong. Amit Shah has already shown what he is capable of in UP.”
CONSOLIDATING LOK SABHA GAINS
In the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, the BJP led in 30 of the 37 Assembly segments in Jammu and three of the four seats in Ladakh. Shah’s first aim is to ensure that the BJP wins as many as possible of the 41 seats of the Jammu and Ladakh 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 4 seats of Ladakh.
But the recent Lok Sabha results have given reason for cheer. If the BJP is able to replicate it’s Lok Sabha performance in the Assembly Elections, the party will end up with a substantial 33 seats in the 88 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’s aspires to make dent in the Kashmir Valley as well.
ENROLLMENT CAMPAIGN OF KASHMIRI PANDITS
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 8 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 4 lakh eligible Kashmiri Pandit voters settled across the country. But out of these only one lakh twenty six thousand 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 votes in seats like Habbakadal, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Anantnag, Tral (substantial Sikh population), Amirakadal, Sopore and Khanyar. On seats like Habbakadal the total voting percentage was as low as 11 per cent. The average voting percentage on all these seats in the last Assembly Elections was in the low thirties. In each of these seats the percentage of Kashmiri Pandits voters is more than 10 per cent. If the BJP is able to get most of the Pandits to vote for the party then their votes can significantly alter traditional electoral dynamics on these seats.
BREAKING AWAY DISGRUNTLED LEADERS
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 party. These include PDP leader Taj Mohammad Khan; PDP Youth Wing State General Secretary Showkat Javed Daing; former NC Senior leader from Rajouri, Choudhary Talib Hussain; Dr. Hina Bhat, daughter of former NC leader Muhammad, Shafi Bhat; former Jammu and Kashmir Inspector General of Police (IGP) Farooq Khan and Satinder Singh Bijral and also two time MLA of the Jammu State Morcha (JSM) Ashwani Sharma.
The strategy of giving tickets to prominent rebels worked well for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections and now Amit Shah is hoping that these new recruits can deliver a seat each in their pocket of influence.
TYING UP WITH REGIONAL PLAYERS
To boost its post poll position the BJP is also looking at forging different kinds of tactical understanding 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 Thupstan Chhewang on the Leh seat by a paltry margin of 36 votes.
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 Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference. Set up in June 2013, the Awami Ittehad Party won 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 on at 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 Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah, told the India Today Group, ‘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.
Devendar’s colleague and National Conference Spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq added, ‘Abrogation of Article 370 is the lightning rod with which the BJP is trying to polarize the Jammu region. The BJP is trying to drive a wedge in the state for mere electoral gains. The danger here is that the state’s various fault lines may come out in the open and the many regions that comprise the state be at cross purposes.’
While PDP Spokesperson Dr Sameer Kaul said, ‘Electorally what the BJP is trying to is impossible to achieve. J&K is a Muslim majority state. This attempt is polarising and divisive. It will only lead to disruption and disorder.’
Even independent experts are concerned about the impact of BJP’s Mission Kashmir will have on the social fabric of the state. Renowned Kashmiri academic and political historian Siddiq Wahid said, ‘A lot will depend on the kind of campaign that the BJP will run. J&K politics is a lot more complex than the BJP thinks. If the BJP campaign ends up polarising communities in the state it can be very damaging for the social fabric of the state.’
Given the BJP’s track record in Jammu and Kashmir any talk of the party emerging as the single largest in the state seems far-fetched. 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 pipe dream. Regardless of whether the party succeeds or not, this winter will see a lot of political heat being generated in Jammu and Kashmir.
The party is hoping to consolidate its voter 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. So far the BJP has not been able to make any forward movement on Article 370 because of stiff opposition from the state government. However, if Shah is able to pull off his audacious Mission Kashmir then the Sangh Parivar’s dream of amending Article 370 can finally be turned into a reality.