BJP in Kashmir?

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is out to form a government in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) after the elections to the Srinagar assembly in the winter. Its slogan is “44-plus”. The assembly has 87 seats — 46 are from the Kashmir Valley; 37 from Jammu and four from Ladakh. In the election to the Lok Sabha last May the ruling National Conference was trounced.

The People’s Democratic Party won all three seats from the Valley while BJP won both seats from Jammu province and the solitary seat from Ladakh. BJP led in as many as 27 assembly segments out of the 41 Jammu and Ladakh combined. Of the former six districts of Jammu only two and a half have a Hindu majority — Jammu and Kathua and a part of Udhampur.

However, Doda, Poonch and Rajouri have a Muslim majority. Ladakh’s Leh district has a Buddhist majority and Kargil a Muslim one. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was always in favour of trifurcation of J&K.

Within days of the BJP government assuming office in May, the union home ministry prepared a classified note stating that the centre would shift its focus from the Valley to Jammu and Ladakh. The idea was to “treat Jammu & Kashmir as one unit and not single out Kashmir. There has to be a cohesive policy linking … Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”.

The BJP refuses to reckon with the deep alienation in Kashmir.

It meant frenzied attempts to ensure the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley to contain the latter politically. It was a Congress minister in Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s cabinet, Sham Lal Sharma, who asserted: “There is nothing in the constitution which prevents a Hindu from becoming the chief minister. The next chief minister should be a Hindu. There is nobody to take care of the interests of the Jammu region.”

But the government rests on Congress support which has been indispensable to forming a coalition. The Congress has a base in Jammu.

BJP is out to break the format. Its president and Prime Minister Modi’s right-hand man, Amit Shah, said recently that “the time had come” for a “nationalist government” in J&K. The people should “throw out” the Abdullah as well as the Mufti dynasties. “The BJP government will help to get justice for Jammu, as the various governments have meted out step-motherly treatment to the region.” He was launching ‘Mission 44-plus’.

The language will become even more explicit when Modi descends into the election campaign, with Amit Shah. Regional chauvinism will be identified with religious sentiment, leaving J&K more polarised than ever.

In the last decades the BJP worked hard on the Kashmiri Pandit migrants living outside J&K; Moti Kaul, president of the All India Kashmiri Samaj and a BJP man, claims that there are 4,00,000 eligible Pandit voters of whom only 1,26,000 are registered.

Constituencies have been identified in which they have a significant presence. They are Habba Kadal, Sopore, Tral and Anantnag in the Valley. In Jammu, the BJP aims at constituencies in which the communal ratio is almost equal. It has identified at least 10 constituencies in the Valley in which Kashmiri Pandits hold the key. Its hopes rest on the Pandits’ vote and success of Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s call for boycott of the elections.

In 2008, his call yielded eight crucial seats in Srinagar to Omar Abdullah to help him form a government. He is unlikely to flinch from such a course now even if it means the success of the BJP’s 44-plus.

A low turnout by separatists coupled with sizeable voting by the Pandits will assure the BJP the required seats in the Valley. The calculation is — 41 seats in Jammu and Ladakh and at least three in the Valley to get the 44 out of 87 seats needed to form a government.

The BJP is playing with fire. It refuses to reckon with the deep alienation in the Valley. In an interview to Muzamil Jaleel, Omar Abdullah said, “If there is a breakdown of electricity, people come out on the streets to protest and start shouting slogans of azadi. I tried my level best but there are lots of things beyond my control”.

A month later on Aug 27, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the same thing. “There’s pain and instability. One incident would push it back to square one. Alienation and anger among Kashmiri youth have increased. If dialogue is discredited [cancellation of talks between the Indian and Pakistan foreign secretaries] it would push people to hard-liners”.

The Modi government has no plans for a meaningful dialogue with the Kashmiris, still less, with Pakistan. The challenge before Kashmir’s leaders, unionists and separatists alike is to devise a strategy which channelises the alienation into a powerful direction and, in the immediate future, resoundingly defeat the BJP’s nefarious plans.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, September 6th , 2014