With a systematic campaign, the BJP has added a new dimension to Jammu and Kashmir politics, which has revolved around the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) so far. The party, which edged out the Congress in the Jammu region in the general election in May, has turned around the discourse with its audacious “Mission 44” plan, aimed at capturing office in the state. Though the party’s highest tally in the state assembly has been 11 seats — out of a possible 87 — and its influence limited to Jammu, the BJP has succeeded in resetting the poll agenda around its campaign across the state, including the Valley.
The BJP has targeted the NC, the PDP and the Congress, calling them dynasty-centric parties that have failed to address the aspirations of the people, and has sought to reach out to sections of the electorate and smaller parties that have been left out of the power matrix. In a bid to expand its influence beyond Jammu, the party has tamed its views on divisive issues and has chosen development and peace as two deliverables if elected. The loser in this game is likely to be the Congress, which has been king-maker in the state since the 2002 assembly elections. However, the attempt at a liberal makeover could bring to the fore the BJP’s internal contradictions. In the past, the party has pursued an aggressive nationalist agenda in J&K, reflected in its approach to issues like Article 370, which deals with J&K’s special status, and championed a Hindutva plank in the state. It would have to soften its Hindutva agenda to become acceptable in the Valley, which could dent its appeal among core supporters. The moderation of hardline agendas, be it of the BJP or of the separatists, is welcome, since people’s interests are unlikely to be served by parties that cling to intractable positions.
A dose of realism should serve all as J&K goes to the polling booth today. The state’s unique and tortuous history should caution political parties from making promises that can’t be delivered. J&K has seen too many false dawns and parties ought to be realistic while being sensitive to the aspirations of the people. Turnouts have been on the rise in the past few elections, as people increasingly perceive polls to be an opportunity to debate issues of governance and administration. Political parties should not let down the people on this count, at least.