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BJP’s Mission Kashmir

Amit Shah’s visit to Jammu marks his party’s optimism about a first assembly election victory in the state, thanks to Lok Sabha poll performance in Jammu and Ladakh regions and sustained efforts at polarisation.

BJP rally in Anantnag during the Lok Sabha polls. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi) BJP rally in Anantnag during the Lok Sabha polls. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

Mission 44+ has a ring of the BJP’s successful general election campaign. For a party whose best performance in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir assembly has been 11 seats in 2008, and which has no seat in Kashmir or Ladakh, it marks the first time it sees itself in a position to chase that majority target.

It is with an eye on that target that BJP president Amit Shah is in Jammu, with a rally scheduled Monday.

The BJP won both Lok Sabha seats in Jammu region as well as Ladakh, with leads in 27 of 41 assembly segments. In the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, the BJP led none of the 46 segments, but hopes to gain following the decision of ruling partners the Congress and the National Conference to contest separately. Its primary focus in the Kashmir Valley is on five seats — Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal in Srinagar, Sopore in Baramulla, and

Anantnag and Tral in South Kashmir —where it is banking on Muslim voters going by a boycott called by separatists, and migrant Kashmiri Pandits turning out in its support. The BJP also plans to back some independents who would then support the party in the event of a hung house.

In Jammu region, even the Congress admits the BJP will be its main challenge. MLC Naresh Gupta agrees the Congress’s fight will be against the BJP across this region’s Chenab Valley except in Kishtwar, where the National Conference enjoys a support base. “The BJP’s performance in the region in the Lok Sabha elections was due to many reasons including a Narendra Modi wave and polarisation due to communal clashes in Kishtwar on Eid,’’ Gupta says. “However,” he adds, “the Modi appeal is waning and the atmosphere of polarisation too has faded.”

The BJP is for the first time projecting itself as an alternative to the ruling coalition, which could attract many fence-sitters. It is stressing all-round development. And rather than openly raising its pet issue, abrogation of Article 370, it is urging people to discuss its advantages and disadvantages, party general secretary Bali Bhagat says, and challenging opponents to give at least 10 examples of Article 370 having benefited the people.

The primary strategy, however, is to prevent a split in the Hindu vote by focusing the campaign at ending what it calls Muslim dominance and  ushering in BJP rule. The pressure from the Sangh is so intense that even the Congress leadership in Jammu has started courting the Hindu vote-bank — Congress minister Sham Lal Sharma has demanded a first Hindu chief minister.

Part of the BJP strategy is also to win over the non-Kashmiri Muslim vote bank, especially Gurjjars, in Jammu.

GROUNDWORK

While the Modi wave and polarisation following the Kishtwar clashes contributed to the BJP’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls, the party has been gaining from work done by Sangh Parivar organisations in remote areas predominantly inhabited by Muslims. Sangh Parivar sources say that after militancy began in 1989, their activists visited families of Muslims being targeted by militants for being informers for the security forces. A senior functionary said these interactions started under then RSS pracharak Indresh Kumar, now a national executive member, who was instrumental in forming the Sangh’s Muslim Rashtriya Manch. Indresh was later linked to Hindu terror cases by probe agencies.

When all economic activity had come to a standstill, Sangh leaders say, they formed small help groups run sewing and computer centres. Over time, various units of the Sangh, operating anonymously, stepped in and by 2005 had spread their network in all three regions. RSS sources say they are running several NGOs in the valley without making the association public.

In Ladakh, where Buddhists had initially been hostile to the RSS, the Sangh won many supporters by setting up NGOs and nearly 70 schools. Sangh sources talk of Atal Bihari Vajpayee visiting Leh in 1979 to support the demand for a hill council. The RSS also helped organise aid from all over the country for victims of the 2010 cloudburst in Leh.

Currently, apart from schools in Hindu-dominated urban areas, RSS sources claim they are silently running nearly 5,000 single-teacher schools in remote corners, including in the Valley. These are run from residential houses, with no fees charged.

BJP student wing the ABVP holds blood donation camps and is active in Jammu University and colleges across Jammu. The party’s labour unit, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, has set up units across the state and claims to have enrolled around 4,000 women anganwadi workers.

The VHP, meanwhile, has been pushing for revival of various pilgrimages, especially in areas dominated by Muslims. It ensured resumption of a pilgrimage to the Buddha Amarnath in Mandi area of Poonch district in 2005. The yatra had been stopped in the mid-1990s due to militancy, VHP leader Dr Ramakant Dubey said, adding that now people from all over the country participate, in effect helping an area predominantly inhabited by Muslims.

The VHP now plans yatras in Muslim-majority Bhaderwah and Kishtwar areas too. Sangh groups also plan yatras in the Valley and have identified sites with the help of Kashmiri Pandits. They have played a key, silent role in organising the controversial Kousarnag yatra from Riasi.

The VHP’s international president Praveen Togadia too has helped motivate Sangh activists in Jammu. Booked for a hate speech in March 2012 that was followed by communal tension in Rajouri, Togadia was sent back from the airport by the government last year.

Although their combined efforts can only help the BJP, these organisations work independently of one another. “We carry out non-political activities. We feel a strong and healthy society alone can ensure an effective political system,” a senior Sangh Parivar leader said, adding that no one will have seen any Sangh Parivar leader sharing the political stage with the BJP as they prefer to work as invisible foot soldiers.

He recalled how the ABVP state unit had agitated against the Vajpayee government over its decision to admit 75 students of the Valley-based private medical college to Government Medical College in Jammu in 2001, forcing the government to withdraw the decision.

In 2008 — the previous election year for the state’s six-year assembly — the 11 seats the BJP won were due largely to the Sangh’s role in the Amarnath land agitation that year. When mainstream political parties, separatists and civil society groups launched an agitation against the allocation of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board, the Sangh Parivar projected the agitation as anti-Hindu and anti-Jammu, and local BJP leaders threatened an economic blockade of Kashmir. This led to polarisation.

The agitation was led by lawyer Leela Karn Sharma and retired brigadier Suchet Singh. Though the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti leadership denied links with the Sangh, Suchet Singh went on to become the RSS’s state sangh chalak after the 2008 polls.

DEFENCE GROUPS

When militancy spread to the Chenab Valley region and Rajouri and Poonch of Jammu, the Sangh Parivar played a key role in checking migration of Hindus from there. Many of its central leaders courted arrest during their Doda bachao agitation, prompting the then state government to constitute village defence committees from among the Hindu population and equip them with weapons. These VDCs changed the power balance, especially in Muslim-majority areas. As such, they were resented by the Muslim population.

Once militancy declined, mainstream parties such as the National Conference, the Congress and the PDP cited examples of VDC atrocities on their Muslim neighbours and demanded their disarming. As VDCs had been a Sangh idea supported by the previous NDA government, the BJP opposed the disarming.

When communal clashes broke out in Kishtwar last year, there were complaints again about the partisan role of VDCs, and the BJP and other Sangh Parivar organisations rallied behind them. The result of the polarisation showed in the Lok Sabha polls when a little known BJP candidate defeated Congress stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad in his home constituency.

2014

The BJP has, in fact, long enjoyed Hindu support in Jammu region but has not yet been able to use that to its advantage in an assembly poll, partly because the Congress too has catered to this vote-bank. In the 2002 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP led 32 of the 37 segments in Jammu. Having won three Lok Sabha seats now, BJP general secretary Bhagat says the party has analysed why its vote share has traditionally been low in assembly polls and found that the reason is that it never projected itself as an alternative to the ruling party. Now, Bhagat said, the party will go to the people with Modi’s slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas” of inclusive development.

Three dozen ministers from the Centre and BJP-ruled states have been tasked to tour all assembly seats during the current month. “We are asking for a visit by PM Modi too,” Bhagat said, adding the PM will hold a rally in the Valley after the poll notification that is expected in October.

Four ministers addressed rallies in Jammu and Samba districts recently. Bhagat said union minister Smriti Irani has visited Jammu to attend a “booth level karyakarta sammelan’’, while minister V K Singh is expected to arrive soon. They will also visit assembly constituencies in the Valley, he said.
While concentrating on Jammu and Ladakh regions, the party claims to have identified at least 10 assembly constituencies in the Valley, including those where Kashmiri Pandits hold the key.  “A number of former ministers and legislators from the Valley are in touch with the party leadership,” a party leader said.

Last week, veteran Gurjjar leader Choudhary Talib Hussain, a three-time NC MLA and a former minister, and Taj Mohammad, a businessman with interests abroad, joined the party. Former Congress MP Choudhary Lal Singh will join the BJP Monday at Amit Shah’s rally.

 

SANGH FACES IN THE STATE

Ramesh Gupta (RSS prant pracharak)

Began as a student leader who led several agitations and was jailed during Emergency. He is from Jammu city. Scored a first when, after having been ABVP president, he served as state secretary in 1993-95 and then as state organising secretary, until he was made organising secretary for North Zone in 1997. Was all-India general secretary during 2001-04, and then international secretary general of international wing from 2006 to ’08. In 2010, became RSS prant pracharak for Jammu & Kashmir. A double MA (political science and Buddhist studies) with a gold medal in the latter. Since 1990, he has left his home and the family business to dedicate himself full-time to his cause. He is a bachelor.

Dr Virender Koundal (State AVBP president)

Working as senior assistant professor of economics in Jammu University. His PhD thesis was on the condition of nomadic Gurjjars in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. He is from Kangra in Himachal but his family has shifted to Jammu. He joined ABVP as marg darshak in 2004. He had got attracted in 2002 when it carried out a month-long agitation against the Vajpayee government for admitting students of Valley-based Prime Medical College to Government Medical College at Jammu. He is married with two young sons. His wife is a teacher.

Dr Rama Kant Dubey (Patron, state VHP)

Ayurveda doctor, 75, associated with RSS since age 10. Born in village Patti near Samba, he was impressed with Sangh during Partition when activists trained villagers to defend themselves from Pakistani intruders. When his family shifted to Jammu, he and his father attended RSS shakhas at Samadhiyan. He became an RSS volunteer in 1975. Two decades ago, he was made VHP state vice-president, and in 2001 its president. He was instrumental in getting the duration of Amarnath Yatra increased from one month to two months in 2004. Credited with being responsible for revival of Buddha Amarnath Yatra to Mandi in Poonch from Jammu in 2005. At forefront of Amarnath land agitation in 2008. Founder president of Baba Amarnath Yatri Nayas.

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