BJP’s Dream in Kashmir – A Hindu Chief Minister

(Shujaat Bukhari)

With elections becoming a reality, the right wing Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has renewed its pledge to get the “full majority” in the Legislative Assembly and rule India’s only Muslim majority state – Jammu and Kashmir. BJP has earlier talked about installing the first Hindu Chief Minister in the state. On October 27, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli reiterated the party’s stance on the issue, though without making a direct reference to this agenda. “Whoever will be the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, he is going to be obviously a citizen of that state, an elected member of the state legislative assembly. So it doesn’t matter. Whatever be the religion, there cannot be a bar in terms of that,” he told a wire agency.

Shujaat Bukhari

Shujaat Bukhari

BJP has also made it clear that it won’t enter into any pre-poll alliance and contest all the 87 seats in the state on its own. Buoyed by the fact that it won three Lok Sabha (Upper House of parliament) seats in the general elections held in May this year and the recent victory of the party in Haryana and Maharashtra states, the BJP is gearing up to “script new history” in Jammu and Kashmir too. Whether it will realize the dream of getting the state under the BJP canopy remains to be seen. But the way it has been working hard to have a foot-hold in Kashmir valley is something that cannot be ignored. Secret meetings with some known faces and professionals joining the BJP bandwagon in Kashmir, though not in large numbers, has surely helped it to create a space. With BJP government in power at the centre, it has a luring effect towards a particular set of people. Otherwise it is unthinkable to see those people, who have been making Jammu and Kashmir a Muslim-Hindu issue, desperate to be in the good books of BJP.

Traditionally, the two and half districts having Hindu majority have remained the support base for the BJP though never reaching a spectacular number. In the 2002 assembly elections, Congress resurfaced by registering a victory on 16 out of 37 seats in Jammu region. It also won four in Valley. However, with the Armarnath land row taking over politics ahead of 2008 assembly elections, it faced losses reducing the total number to 13. The BJP that had won just one seat in 2002 elections jumped to 11 seats in 2008, owing to polarization due to the Amarnath land controversy.

With the ruling coalition run by National Conference and Congress having nothing to offer but corruption and unrest, the BJP easily consolidated its base in Jammu thus winning not only two Lok Sabha seats in the region but also spreading its base to Ladakh region having a mixed population of Buddhists and Muslims. NC also conceded its space in Jammu region to Congress that further changed the dynamics. Now the new plan is to get control over the Valley too. It may not be not be easy for the party to set foot in Kashmir so firmly that it helps it to come to power, but a boycott by separatists is the only fertile factor it is banking on.

While Jammu seems to be swarming in the Modi-BJP wave and the results in coming elections, beginning from November 25, may not surprise many. The party is certainly going to eat most of the space occupied by the “secular” Congress and that is why the party leaders are on the run. Fearing the drubbing at the hustings, a senior Congress minister Sham Lal Sharma (who recently resigned) had advocated for having a Hindu Chief Minister. In spite of following the so-called secular character of his party he could not withstand the ostensible pressure from BJP and fell in the trap. Although the party distanced itself from his views, it spoke volumes about the trend that was being set.

For achieving the magic figure of 44 (simple majority in an 87-member house), the BJP besides banking on the majority of vote share in Jammu is looking at some seats from the Valley. They have been eying Sopore, Habba Kadal, Tral, Amira Kadal and Anantnag, which witness very low polling due to the boycott by separatists. The strategy is simple: to woo the Kashmiri Pandit voters, who are hardcore supporters of BJP, and to encourage candidates from smaller and insignificant groups to divide the votes on the other side. Kashmiri Pandits are registered as voters outside Kashmir and the party is putting all efforts to consolidate them. The BJP is also replicating the Uttar Pradesh model (of the recent general elections) in Jammu by ensuring complete counter-polraisation and see that the Muslim vote is divided in majority areas of Chenab and Pir Panchal valleys.

Though not a constitutional requirement, the Chief Minister of the Muslim majority state has always been a Muslim. Kashmiris traditionally held the post, but in 2005 it went to Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress, who hails from Bhaderwah in Jammu. With Jammu and Kashmir having a Muslim population of 71 percent (according to the 2011 census), in case BJP succeeds in its plan, the state will go through a major change. BJP may be well within its rights to aspire for power in the state but to change the course like this is only to convey that the majority in the state will no longer matter. Otherwise also Kashmir valley has seen worst discrimination at the hands of PDP-Congress and NC-Congress coalitions in past one decade. Congress ministers set new records of blackmailing the Chief Ministers under the garb of coalitions.

Kashmir is already caught in competing narratives of ‘integral part’ and ‘jugular vein’. The way the BJP led government in Delhi is approaching the problem, it is surely going to open new ways for alienation. Pushing the people to the wall by challenging their demography and identity, it may end up providing fuel to a new revolt, which may not be within the contours of its control mechanism. In case the change that the BJP is looking at becomes a reality, Kashmir will revert back to 1586, when the real disempowerment of its majority began as Mughal Emperor Akbar dethroned the sovereign King Yusuf Shah Chak and banished him.

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