In November last year, when Mohammad Yaseen Ghani (65) walked up the mountains to cast his vote, two things were on his mind — the development of his village Maligam and keeping the BJP away. Ghani voted for the PDP.
Fifteen kilometers from Maligam, Oghlian — a Hindu-dominated village — voted to bring the BJP to power, to keep the PDP out.
As the two parties seen as representing diverse ends of J&K’s political spectrum took oath to form the government together Sunday, both Maligam and Oghlian villages — located in Banihal, at the boundary between Jammu and Kashmir — looked willing to give the alliance a chance.
Dominated by Muslims, Banihal’s culture is a blend of Kashmir and Jammu. Even the BJP fielded a Muslim candidate from the seat in the Assembly polls. Most of the Hindus voted for him, while the Muslim vote got split, helping the Congress win.
Maligam is a cluster of four panchayats up in the mountains of Banihal. A single-vehicle road from the Srinagar-Jammu national highway leads to Shalkhud, from where Maligam is a further 8-km dirt track away.
The village has no proper road or public health centre and few employment opportunities. On voting day, something else though weighed on Maligam’s mind.
“Here, we (Hindus and Muslims) have lived together. There was a fear, the fear of the BJP, especially when they said ‘If you have to remain in India you have to remain as Hindus’,” says Ghani. “That was on my mind when I went out to vote.”
They understand though why the PDP has now turned to the BJP. “The circumstances are such. There was no other option for Mufti sahib (Mufti Mohammad Sayeed),” says Abdul Rashid, a government employee, who voted for the PDP. “It is time to move forward and hope the government brings us development.”
Oghlian, also located in the mountains, is an hour’s walk from the nearest road and accessible only by foot. Pritam Singh, who runs a hotel, is among those who voted for the BJP. “Yes, we were against the PDP but whatever the BJP has done is in the interest of the state,” he says, hopeful of the new government. “Both the parties are strong and only when they meet, can they give a strong government to the state.”
Would coming together of the PDP and BJP bridge the gap between Kashmir and Jammu? “It is too early to say that,” says Faqeer Chand of Oghlian. “But we hope so.”
At the same time, both sides see the alliance as a sign of climbdown by the rival party. “There were issues and the PDP forced the BJP to accept their stand on them,” says Sajad Ahmad of Tajniyal village, located next to Oghlian, who voted for the PDP.
“No, the PDP has surrendered to the BJP’s demands. We are the winners,” retorts BJP supporter Ravi Kumar of Oghlian.
There are a few who see the alliance as a betrayal of their vote. “This will be the end of the PDP,” says Imtiyaz Ahmad (34), an unemployed youth of Tajniyal. “In Delhi, it was Arvind Kejriwal and in Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah will now sweep with the broom.”