With even the central BJP leadership boasting about winning a clutch of assembly seats from the Kashmir valley, the stakes are high for the only two Kashmiri women who have bagged the party’s tickets — or “mandate” as people in the state call it — especially since BJP leaders have optimistically added their constituencies, Sonwar and Amira Kadal, both in Srinagar city, to their list of surefire victories.
Thus, there is Darakhshan Andrabi, an erstwhile president of the Socialist Democratic Party, now on a hectic door-to-door campaign in Sonwar. She faces the test of trying to defeat Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who has picked Sonwar (his father, Farooq Abdullah was an MLA from here in 2008) along with Beerwah after abandoning the family bastion of Ganderbal.
Though this is her first election, Andrabi, 38, is a seasoned “peace activist”, and a writer and poet. Her last book, a Kashmiri translation of Pablo Neruda’s poems, was released by then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. Now, she says, she has got the blessings of BJP stalwarts such as ministers Rajnath Singh and Dr Jitendra Singh and also been appointed one of the spokespersons for J&K by the party.
“I am being listed as one of the star campaigners for the Srinagar sector and since I am the spokesperson also, I am being called for many candidates in the valley for their campaign,” she says. “And our goal is clear: we want the BJP to emerge a clear winner. Our dream is to be in power on our own.”
In Sonwar, Andrabi is trying to capitalise on the anti-Omar sentiment due to the poor relief work after the floods in Srinagar. “My constituency has gone back 100 years due to the floods and Omar Abdullah did not step out of his house to help the people. I will not let him win from here,” she warns. Her words find an echo in a neighbourhood where scores of houses are still to be reconstructed.
There is, for instance, a Sikh family from Sonwar, who say they have traditionally been Congress supporters but this time want to “try out” the BJP. Says Hardharam Singh, who works with a hospitality firm in Delhi and is visiting Srinagar to supervise the repair of their bungalow, “All of us feel that it is only BJP workers and leaders like Andrabi who have come out in the post-flood period to claim that a big rehabilitation package will come after the elections.”
A similar campaign is being witnessed in Amira Kadal. BJP candidate Dr Hina Bhat, a dental surgeon whose father Mohammad Shafi Bhat has been an MP from the National Conference, says she was always inclined towards politics and prior to these elections was for long wooed by the Congress and later by the BJP.
Along with hundreds of other houses in Amira Kadal, Hina’s dental clinic too was damaged in the floods and it was on July 19 that she finally joined the BJP and gave up practice. She claims that in three months, the earlier “hatred” for the party has evaporated and people in the valley are willing to give the BJP a chance.
She comes upfront on her controversial remarks on Article 370 and clarifies that while she has no regrets on what she said, those were her personal views and did not reflect the party line. “People forget that I have already wielded the biggest weapon, and that is joining the BJP as a Kashmiri at a time when I did. Even today, I am campaigning without any security. How many candidates of other parties would dare do that?”
She has a tough contest with sitting National Conference MLA Nassir Aslam Wani deciding to recontest. But Hina says she is getting good traction on the campaign trail and is also confident of mopping up votes from the Kashmiri Pandit community. “What will happen after the polls is for the party leadership to decide. Unlike the Congress and the National Conference, we are not a dynastic party. We are an organisation and whom to align with will be a collective decision.”