During a recent visit, BJP strategist Arun Jaitley asked the Muslim-majority state to give the party four or five lotuses from the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley to help it form the government.
Its confidence high in Ladakh and Jammu, the BJP’s target in Kashmir is seats marked by a high count of migrant Kashmiri Pandits, whom it wants to vote, as well as poll boycott calls, which it hopes other voters will follow. These include Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal in Srinagar, Sopore in Baramulla and Anantnag and Tral in South Kashmir. The BJP also plans to back some independent candidates.
For the past three months, party leaders have formed special teams to motivate Kashmiri Pandits to vote in good numbers. In past elections, they have not shown much interest in voting.
Former DGP Farooq Khan is using his network to influence people to help the BJP in the Valley as well as Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu. The BJP struggled in the Lok Sabha polls in the Valley, with candidates forfeiting their deposits in Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag.
“This time we are confident and our chief minister will be a Muslim from Kashmir;” said Ashraf Azad, who is in charge of the BJP’s central zone in the state. Azad joined the party in the early 1990s and lost three assembly elections from Budgam. “Despite negative propaganda about our party and Prime Minister Modi, the party can win a dozen seats from Kashmir,” he said. The party is launching an enrolment drive in the Valley and Azad is hopeful of 1,000 new members.
BJP state vice president Mohammad Maqbool War, also a candidate, said the party is in touch with Sajjad Gani Lone of People’s Conference who commands a lot of influence in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district. “He will forge an alliance with us after the elections,” War said.
“People are fed up with dynastic politics and militancy and want change,” said Khalid Jehangir, a former journalist and now BJP spokesman. “Youth are joining us; they want jobs and development and only BJP can resolve these problems.”
BJP FACES IN KASHMI
Bhat, 42, is a businessman who joined the BJP in 1996 and is therefore among its most senior members in the Valley. Hailing from a remote village in South Kashmir, he lost the Lok Sabha poll from Srinagar. Has served as president of the youth BJP in Kashmir and general secretary of the BJP in Kashmir; now national general secretary of the BJP Minority Morcha. He calls himself a founding member of the BJP in the Valley. “I want to convey the problems of Kashmir’s people to the Centre,” says Fayaz, confident of winning 40-plus seats.
Dr Hina Bhat
In her mid-thirties, the dentist is emerging as a key face of the BJP. After being groomed by her father Mohammad Shafi Bhat, she recently joined the BJP, which is expected to field her from Amira Kadal, earlier represented by her father as an NC and a Congress MLA. The BJP top leadership is hopeful she will win the seat with the support of her father’s loyal voters and migrant voters. “People of Kashmir have seen NC, Congress and PDP governments; they all have failed. Now the people will give the BJP a chance on the plank of development,’’ she says.
Formerly a journalist. Joined the BJP this year at a rally in Jammu where Narendra Modi himself welcomed him. He is now the party’s state spokesperson. A resident of Ganderbal in central Kashmir, Jehangir has also represented India at the Human Rights Commission at the United Nations for four consecutive years. With a diploma in public diplomacy and peace studies, Jehangir worked with local newspapers before joining ARD News of Germany as a correspondent. He joined the BJP because he was “impressed with the Gujarat model”.