BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain, who has been appointed the party in-charge for the elections to the District Development Councils in Kashmir, was in Srinagar last week to campaign for the party. He spoke to The Indian Express on the BJP’s election plank, and the lack of development in the region.
What is the BJP’s primary election plank? What message are you taking to the people?
I have been sent here as the election incharge for the Valley. The DDC elections are being held for the first time in J&K but this Gupkar alliance, that we call ‘Gupkar gang’ since they have all ganged up…the politicians who have come through dynastic politics, they do not want to talk about development. This election is for District Development Councils and we are seeking votes from the people in the name of development. However, the Gupkar Gang right from the start, have never even said the word development and made no mention of progress.
Sometimes they speak of China’s intervention, as Farooq Abdullah said. Other times, Mehbooba Mufti says ‘talk to Pakistan’. Why should these things be said in a District election? Then they say, ‘we will restore Article 370’. I said that 370 is buried and it will never return so they say that the matter is sub-judice.
The BJP office did not remove (Article) 370, the Parliament did. As you and I speak, Article 370 remains abrogated. No future government, even if it is non-BJP, cannot restore Article 370. Congress also voted on this in Parliament.
We also want that the parties here should give an account of what they have done here. For the PDP and NC, the “quam” meant themselves and their families. Four CMs came from the National Conference and two from the PDP. So six from this alliance — they need to answer for the development of this region. I went to many places that did not have roads and electricity. Bihar, a state that was so backward, has 24-hour electricity in every village. Look at the interiors of North-East, even there bijli paani sadak has reached but who stopped these from reaching Kashmir? Look at the state of Dal Lake, what have they done besides loot (the funds)?
I will not speak of any national or international issues in this election. Our focus is on district development. This is not an election for 370 restoration. This is not a referendum on anything except the nakaami of the political parties of Kashmir. Narendra Modi is a symbol of development.
The Centre does not seem to have had any tangible impact on development in J&K since August 5 last year? What has been achieved in the time since?
Since then, first there was a lockdown for some time. Then the Coronavirus spread everywhere, so development projects have remained stuck. Lt Governor Manoj Sinha has been given the responsibility to work with more speed in Kashmir than at any other place. The scale at which we are working on the development of Kashmir will also be amplified, because this is an agnipariksha for us as well.
Now that Article 370 has been removed, people of J&K should feel they know the benefits of this move. Like we said in Bihar, I am from Bihar so I can give you that example, we decided to have medical college, engineering college, nursing and BEd college in every district. If we only implement the Bihar model, I won’t even say Gujarat, even then at least the students here will have options to study here. Why will so many students from here travel to other states if they have good colleges within their own districts. Apna watan kaun chhorna chahta hai?”
We will pursue development here, we would want tourism to flourish and that the faith of the people on party could be stronger. This is a question of our credibility also, that will come through development.
There are allegations that the BJP is luring candidates from other parties or offering money to candidates.
Our party worker in Kashmir is respected in the party because they are risking their lives and working for us. Three of our workers were killed in Kulgam recently and so many attacked earlier. The number of workers that we have here now… we may not have so many from the minority community in a ruling state. This is a big thing for us. We are contesting all seats with the help of thousands of workers. We have district bodies in all districts, Congress will not have these, but we do, because we are an organisation based party.
So our candidates who wanted to contest in any seat were called in for discussion and then the district committees finalised the names. Those who have looted Kashmir have money, we are a party of the chaiwallah. Whatever the workers pool together, we use that to contest elections.
What kind of campaign strategy is being used given the security concerns here?
We are being careful with regard to Covid also. Holding meetings with social distancing. Administration is applying the same yardstick for DDC candidates, whether from our party or not. It is a question of everyone’s security. For those overseeing these elections, securing the candidates is the top priority.
Mehbooba Mufti’s allegations are baseless. Our candidates have the same difficulty. Even I have to follow security protocol when I travel for campaign.
When the Home Minister terms a multi-party alliance a gang, does that not seem like a pushback for the political process that the Lt Governor- led administration here is keen to take forward?
When have these parties come together in the past? They understand the might of the BJP and that’s why they have ganged up. Mehbooba and Omar Abdullah have realised the party’s strength. So they are a gang that has looted J&K over the years. We have no objections to them fighting elections. HM’s comments were aimed at the Congress joining this gang, they are still with them though not up front.
You are incharge of the 140 seats in the Valley. How many do you think you would be able to secure this time?
I do not want to talk in specifics but we are hoping to get a good number. I have been visiting districts and asking people to vote for the development and progress of Kashmir.
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