Lagama and Bandi, close to the Line of Control in Uri, are Hindu-majority villages but neither seem swayed by the BJP’s efforts to score its best electoral performance ever in Kashmir.
Red, green and white banners and billboards of the NC, the Congress and the PDP have set up an election atmosphere in the twin villages, situated on the national highway 5 km from Uri. Leaders of these parties are campaigning from door to door to meet the 4,000-odd voters here, of whom an estimated 80 per cent are Hindus.
Unlike in other places of the Valley, from where Hindus migrated soon after the start of militancy, people here insisted on staying on even when shells fired from across the LoC landed in these villages and damaged dozens of houses.
Uri has being represented by a Congress MLA for the last two terms. The BJP has fielded a Muslim candidate, former Congressman Mushtaq Ahmad. Not that fielding a Hindu would have made a difference, if one takes at face value the secular credentials some of the villagers flaunt.
“We don’t believe in divisive politics and you won’t find mass support for the BJP here,’’ says Devender Kumar, who sells tea at a small kiosk on the national highway at Lagama. “People from our community have been voting either for the Congress or for the National Conference. This time the PDP too is an option,” he says. He notes, though, that people who have migrated from Uri to Jammu might prefer the BJP.
His wife, Manisha, says BJP leaders from Jammu and other parts of the country have been camping in the valley but haven’t visited these two villages. “They (BJP leaders) know that Hindus living here will never vote for them,” she says.
Angat Kumar Raina, a retired revenue officer, says the BJP won only 40 votes from the two villages last time. “I am sure they will not increase their count,’’ he says.
Two prominent members of the villages’ Hindu community, Bharat Kumar and Master Ashok, are campaigning for the NC and the Congress in other parts of Uri. “We have been getting calls from our relatives in Jammu and elsewhere that we should vote for the BJP. But we will not.”
Locals say that even during the recent parliamentary elections, they preferred the PDP and the NC. “For decades, we have been living here in peace; nobody talks about communal politics. Recently some local BJP leaders asked us to vote for the party as it belongs to Hindus, but nobody took them seriously,’’ says Naresh Sharma, a contractor in Bandi village. “We will only vote for the BJP once our Muslim neighbours start voting for them.”
There is, however, a sense of anti-incumbency. “Our Congress legislator has failed to redress our grievances. Other than the BJP, we can vote for any party,’’ says Hira Lal Sharma a former serviceman now running a grocery store in Bandi.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh had planned a visit to Uri town but called it off when only a few dozen people turned up the venue of his rally.