|J&K has emerged from a very tough, dark and violent phase of terrorism. Dark clouds of terror are always present or just Line of Control away.
By Sunanda Vashisht
The performance of the BJP in J&K elections is a high watermark in Indian democracy. Claiming that the BJP diluted its ideology to appease the voters, would mean missing out on the larger ramifications of the J&K elections.
As I sit down to write this, there are hectic parleys going on in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The fractured election verdict has everyone wondering about the permutations and combinations of government formation. BJP prominently figures in all these potential equations. Those of us who have been watching J&K politics for years will agree that this is a watershed moment in the history of the state and the history of BJP. BJP thus far had very little electoral presence in the state.
It was almost assumed that J&K being the only state with Muslim majority had no place for the BJP. BJP also seemed to have bought this narrative so Kashmir never figured in their electoral designs. Jammu and Kashmir has traditionally been the playground of Congress and National Conference.
Congress and NC have had a very interesting relationship for decades now. In 1948, Sheikh Abdullah stood in historic Lal Chowk and recited a Persian Couplet for Nehru “ Man tu Shudam, Tu Man Shudi, Man tan Shudam tu Jaan Shudi, Ta kas na Goyed bad Azeen,Man Degram tu Degri” roughly translated as “ I became you and you became I ,henceforth no one can say you and I are separate’.This peak of romance between two parties culminated in Sheikh’s arrest in 1953 at the orders of Nehru. Sheikh was charged with conspiracy against the State and remained in jail for eleven years. Sheikh promptly returned the gesture by calling the Congress ‘insects of gutter’.
From here to Sheikh-Indira accord, which placed Sheikh Abdullah as Chief Minister of the state, to Farooq-Rajiv accord, J&K has been victim of hubris of Nehru-Gandhis and the Abdullahs. Oscillating between extreme friendships and animosity, the politics of the state was the personal fiefdom of two families.
While all this was going on, BJP’s ideological parent BJS (Bhartiya Jana Sangh) played the role of crusader and activist in the state opposing tooth and nail Sheikh Abdullah’s not so private dream of seeing Kashmir as his personal Sheikhdom. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherjee famously stood as a rock against Nehru’s tragic handling of Kashmir. He had the sagacity to see that the path undertaken by Nehru was ruinous and would ensure that permanent assimilation with Union of India remains difficult and fraught with stumbling blocks. Dr. Mookherjee mysteriously died in a Kashmir prison and his death was never investigated.
Many years later, when terrorism engulfed the valley, first victim of Jihaadi violence was Pandit Tika Lal Taploo, Vice President of the J&K BJP unit. BJP’s tallest leader, LK Advani marched along with Taploo’s dead body in the heart of Srinagar, bidding him tearful farewell along with thousands of Kashmiris who had defied threats by terrorists.
History of J&K and history of BJP have remained entwined for decades. Yet BJP has been missing from the electoral scene. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed after experimenting with Congress and Janta Dal returned home to form PDP in 1999 and since then PDP and NC have emerged as two major players in the state. BJP continued to remain missing in action. This changed in 2014 General Elections when newly energized BJP under Narendra Modi’s leadership campaigned vigorously in the state and won three out of six seats. PDP won the other three. National Conference was routed out completely and Farooq Abdullah lost Srinagar constituency.
This set the stage for Assembly Elections and BJP seemed to finally take the valley seriously. Probably those at the helm of affairs in BJP 2.0 understood that for any lasting impact in the state they need to get into the din of electoral rigmarole. BJP’s aggressive campaigning changed the political climate. Elections suddenly gained a whole new momentum.
Despite serious and sustained campaigning, BJP did not manage to win any seats in Kashmir Valley. They did extremely well in Jammu and picked four out of six seats in Chenab valley. So was BJP’s outreach in Valley a mistake? There seems to be a whole school of thought that believes that demographics in the valley don’t favor BJP in the valley. So it is best to stay away. There are also many who believe that BJP made some concessions during their campaigning in the valley, diluting their ideological purity in an attempt to please the valley electorate. BJP wasn’t going to win anyway so what was the point of ‘concessions’? Did BJP follow a flawed strategy?
It is no secret that BJP is trying its best to replace Congress as the pan India party. Any party that aims at transforming India and not merely form a government for five years must spread its geographical footprint as wide as possible and in all states as much as possible. They may not win all states, there may be furious struggle with well entrenched regional parties but the battle is worth it.
BJP under Amit Shah is convinced that every battle worth fighting must be fought with sincerity and a well planned strategy. Mission 44 was also a very well planned and executed strategy which worked very well and will long be remembered as something that changed the political climate of J&K forever.
J&K has emerged from a very tough, dark and violent phase of terrorism. Dark clouds of terror are always present or just Line of Control away. Elections before 2002 were riddled by allegations of rigging and fraud. New Delhi was accused of planting stooges in Srinagar. Every election since 2002 has been a step towards integration and restoring democracy.
Mehbooba Mufti in one candid moment during election campaigning said to a news channel “Those days are long gone when Delhi used to decide Chief Ministers, now people here elect their own government”. Ensuring that these elections were free and fair, incident free with no allegations of people being forced to vote, is a moment of triumph for India.
BJP’s Mission 44 gave further credibility to these elections. It forced separatists for the first time to dilute their boycott call and if anecdotes are to be believed there was a call to actually go out and vote in large numbers. Of course this was counter mobilization against BJP candidates who were aggressively campaigning and attracting crowds. The counter mobilization may have ensured no BJP candidate wins in the valley but also ensured no one can call the elections farce. This in context of J&K is a humongous victory.
Despite call for boycott, Kashmiri voters queue in Srinagar.
Once boycott politics has been abandoned it is very difficult to resort to it again. Sajjad Lone, who was part of Hurriyat conference earlier fought these elections and his party won two seats of Handwara and Kupwara which he admitted was more than what his father Abdul Gani Lone could have ever won.
I am pretty sure BJP election wizards knew that 44 seats is impossible in J&K, yet they kept talking about it, some would say even hyped it. This was necessary to keep the candidates motivated, supporters engaged and detractors on pin pricks.
The strategy worked. BJP delivered its best performance ever in the state with 25 seats and highest vote share among all parties. Jammu voted overwhelmingly for BJP, Kashmir voted overwhelmingly to keep BJP away – both worked ultimately in favor of strengthening democracy in the state. Ladakh was a bit of disappointment for BJP, something they need to look into and work on.
BJP had two choices for this election. To stay away from Kashmir like they always did and give credence to the view that politics will always be subservient to demographics or jump head long in battle and prove that BJP 2.0 will fight every battle that is worth fighting for India.
They may not have won any seats this time, their candidates may have lost their deposits but they managed to give two ‘families’ sleepless nights. They ensured that politics in J&K cannot and must not be a smooth transfer of power between two families with Congress acting as handmaiden to whosoever wins more seats.
I am amused by the allegations of diluting ‘ideology’ or ‘reaching out’ or ‘appeasement’. I saw none of that happening. Article 370 remains an article of faith for BJP and they remain open to discussing it threadbare. They fought the election on the development plank like they fought the General Election on a development plank. In that sense they remained consistent to their message.
BJP candidates in valley have different views which is understood because they are all products of same brain washing that has been going on for decades. The notion that if Art. 370 will be abrogated some apocalypse will happen still exists. BJP cannot import candidates from Delhi and Mumbai to fight elections in Kashmir. It will have to be local candidates. Changing mindsets will take time. This is the first time BJP is in a position where it can even attempt to initiate a debate.
Some other allegations I heard were frankly pretty juvenile. I do not think Army was undermined in any way. Apologizing for a genuine mistake is not undermining anybody. Even the Army apologized for its mistake. In a war zone, mistakes can happen. It is best to acknowledge and move on instead of letting the wounds fester. Not invoking Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Matram in election rallies also seems to have frustrated many and rightly so.
To them I say Mission 44 is the first genuine attempt to create an environment where Vande Matram can be invoked, where tricolor can be unfurled and where Bharat Mata ki Jai can be said without any fear not just by the Prime Minister but by ordinary citizens and those displaced citizens of the valley who are longing to get back. It will take time but Mission 44 set the ball rolling for final integration.
Featured Image, Photo Credit: Niticentral