BJP, which has been trying to shrug off the ‘communal’ tag, has fielded nearly 40 per cent Muslim candidates in Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls under its ambitious ‘Mission 44 plus’ to wrest power in the state. BJP is contesting more than 70 Assembly seats out of 87 and has fielded 32 Muslim candidates. While the saffron party has fielded 25 Muslims in Kashmir Valley, six BJP candidates from the community are in the fray in Jammu region and one in Ladakh. BJP has also fielded four Kashmiri Pandit candidates and a Sikh leader in assembly constituencies in Kashmir Valley and three Buddhists from Ladakh region as a strategic move.
“BJP is not an untouchable in Kashmir Valley. People in the Valley come out in huge numbers in our rallies, road shows and programmes as they look towards BJP as an alternative to NC and PDP, which are ruled by Kashmir’s two important dynasties,” BJP in-charge for J&K and MP Avinash Rai Khanna told PTI. BJP hopes to improve on its success in the Parliamentary elections in May when it won three out of six seats in the state. The rest three went to PDP while NC-Congress coalition was wiped out. “We won three seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and took a lead on 27 Assembly seats,” Khanna said, adding “the battle to reach to our Mission 44 plus is just on 17 seats”.
BJP is trying to focus more on poll plank of peace and development to reach out to people in the country’s only Muslim-majority state rather than controversial issue like the demand for abrogation of Article 370 of Constitution which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. It has put the issue of Article 370 virtually out of the poll frame, saying it would do only want the people of the state want. The BJP’s mantra for 2014 Assembly elections is freeing J&K from “ruling families” of Kashmir and corruption along with a promise of good governance and development while invoking the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and performance of BJP governments in other states.
Khanna, who has been leading scores of road shows and rallies in Kashmir Valley, is optimistic about accomplishing ‘Mission 44 plus’. “During the rallies at Ganderbal and Kangan, Modi’s popularity was visible,” he said, adding that “the communal tag used as propaganda tool in past, is not being referred to now at all”. “We are contesting this elections on poll plank of making Jammu and Kashmir an ‘international tourism hub’ by bringing peace and development to the region,” Khanna said. In 2008 Assembly elections, BJP had fielded 24 Muslim candidates and seven Kashmiri Pandits out of a total of 60 candidates in Jammu and Kashmir and bagged 11 seats. In 2002 Assembly elections, BJP gave tickets to 17 Muslims candidates out of 58 seats it contested in Jammu and Kashmir and won one seat.
In a change of strategy, BJP has fielded Muslims candidates in Rajouri and Poonch instead of Hindu candidates and has given tickets to six Muslims in Jammu region. “We were always giving tickets to Hindu candidates in these constituencies and our vote share did not grow. This time we changed that equation and our workers accepted it as the right decision. If we win even few seats among these, we will cross the figure of 30,” he said. BJP is also thinking of roping in Independents if it falls short of the magic figure of 44. It is hoping to make inroads in Kashmir as for the first time the party got over 15,000 votes in the Valley in the recent Lok Sabha election. Earlier, it would bag only a few hundred votes.
From being a triangular contest then, it a four-cornered battle now after the Congress and NC split and the BJP feels it would be benefited. “Now that NC and Congress are contesting separately. We feel strongly that our seat winnability would increase further,” he said. He also said that BJP has done selection of candidates fairly. “We have put up candidate with clean image. We did not give ticket to seven MLAs who faced charges,” he said. Explaining the strategy of high-pitched campaign in Kashmir, Khanna said that in Habba Kadal, over 100 local BJP workers are taking care of the campaign in each of the 13 wards. “We are hopeful that in Srinagar, lotus will bloom,” the MP said.
“Media has given much hype to Sajjad Lone and Article 370 issues, but Modi’s vision for this country is peace and development. If people are influenced by these, country and state should welcome it,” Khanna said.
Some of the Muslim candidates fielded by BJP including chief of Bhartiya Gujjar Mahasabha Eshfaq-Ur-Rehman Poswal, Hina Bhat, daughter former MP and two-time MLA from Amirakadal, former Socialistic Democratic Party (SDP) chief, Draksha Andrabi, former Congress leaders Abdul Gani Kohli, Fayaz Rahat, Sofi Yousef and Fayaz Ahmed Bhat. Modi will campaign in the state at end of this week. In 1996, BJP had bagged 8 seats taking 12 per cent vote share. It took 2 seats in 1987. 4 seats were won by the then Jan Sangh with 9.6 per cent votes in 1977.
Jammu and Kashmir will go to polls in five phases from November 25.