The BJP in its first list of candidates for upcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir has tried to give it a new and rejuvenated look by preferring people who are young and with clean public image over repeating the veteran and tainted ones.
All its six sitting MLAs, who had allegedly cross voted in favour of Congress and National Conference candidates during the 2011 legislative council polls, do not find any mention in party’s first list of 45 candidates released on Sunday. The biggest surprise has been the absence of even the BJP two-time MLA from Jammu East constituency and its legislature party leader Ashok Khajuria who appears to have paid the price for his failure to keep the party flock together and avoid such an embarrassing situation as party’s state unit president during cross voting.
In doing so, it has on one hand given a clear message that the BJP is not going to tolerate any such corrupt practice aimed at betraying the public and the party trust reposed in its leaders, it has also tried to present the party with a new, clean and rejuvenated look before people during election time. While making attempt to reassure people that its nominees will withstand all their tests under whatsoever circumstances, it has also kept in mind their winning prospectus so as to achieve the desired 44-mark in the 87 member legislative assembly.
Bali Bhagat who replaced party’s sitting MLA Bharat Bhushan Bodi in Rapur Domana constituency is party’s general secretary and a fire brand leader who had kept the party’s flag high even during peak militancy in Chenab Valley region comprising Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts. He had been in the forefront of demand for constitution of village defence committees (VDCs) who gave a befitting fight to armed terrorists and checked migration of Hindus from their native places.
Similary, Ajay Nanda has replaced the sitting MLA Baldev Raj Sharma in Reasi. The former is the youngest son of BJP’s well known and popular leader late Madho Lal Nanda, advocate, known for his honesty and integrity. The latter for the sake of party unity always preferred to withdraw his claim for mandate in favour of party veteran Rishi Kumar Koushal. Baldev, apart from his alleged involvement in cross voting episode, was facing public criticism for not visiting Reasi after his election to the assembly in 2008.
Similarly, it has replaced its another MLA Jagdish Raj Sapolia by Ch Lal Singh in Basohli. The latter, a two-time Congress legislator and MP from Udhampur had joined BJP few months ago after leaving the Congress. He is also known as a firebrand leader who tried to improve medical and health services during his tenure as Health Minister in Mufti Sayeed’s coalition government in the state.
The other sitting MLAs, whose names have been dropped include Durga Dass (Hiranagar), Master Lal Chand (Bani) and Prof Gharu Ram Bhagat (R S Pura). They have been replaced by Kuldeep Kumar, Jeevan Lal and Dr Gagan Bhagat respectively.
Riding on pro-Amarnath land sentiments in Hindu dominated areas of Jammu, BJP had won 11 seats in the legislative assembly in 2008 polls. However, three years later, seven of them much to the shock and surprise of all voted for National Conference-Congress nominees in the Legislative Council polls. One of those nominees was, later, arrested by police on charges of the gruesome murder of a business tycoon along with his wife, two children and two servants in Jammu city.
All these seven legislators including BJP’s legislature party leader Chaman Lal Gupta were suspended pending enquiry. Following this, though Jugal Kishore Sharma was elected a new legislature party leader by the remaining four legislators, the suspended ones openly revolted against the party high command by rallying behind Chaman Lal Gupta who was later expelled from party. The suspension of remaining six legislators was later revoked by the party.
However, while fielding new and honest faces replacing the tainted ones, the party has also kept in mind their winning prospectus of its candidates so as to achieve the 44-mark in order to form next government in the state. Among the 13 Muslims including a woman figuring in its first list, it has fielded R S Pathania in Ramnagar constituency, Choudhary Talib Hussain in Rajouri, Abdul Ghani Kohli (Kalakote), Taj Mohammad (Surankote) and Zulfikar Ali Pathan (Mendhar).
While Pathania had recently resigned as State Youth Congress president and joined the BJP, Choudhary Talib Hussain had been a former National Conference MP and minister. Kohli had unsuccessfully contested the 2008 assembly elections as a PDP nominee in Kalakote, while Taj Mohammad was a PDP leader in Surankote.
By fielding candidates from all sections, the party had tried to project itself not only as a party that believed in the development of all, but also as an alternative to National Conference, Congress and the PDP. By deciding to contest all the 87 seats in the state, it has also for the first time tried to project itself as a serious contender for next government formation in the state.