The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP blames terror tall talk

New Delhi, Oct. 10: The BJP is finding it difficult to come to terms with being wiped out from Jammu and Udhampur, its traditional strongholds in Jammu and Kashmir.

From a high of eight seats in the 1996 elections, the BJP managed to pick up just one this time, that too a new one, prompting a senior party leader to comment: “It was as if the anti-incumbency sentiment against the National Conference swallowed us up instead of them.”

Going by the results available so far, the NC, which was expected to be routed in the Jammu region, managed to retain nine of the 14 seats it had won last time. That the NC managed to stay afloat in Jammu, while the BJP sank rankled the latter. “We will have to sit and introspect to find out what went wrong,” said a party source.

The initial reaction in the BJP is that the hype created over combating terrorism with a complete “mismatch” on the ground had played a major role in the party’s downfall.

“From the time we came to power at the Centre, high-sounding statements were made by all the leaders about how they would eliminate terrorism from Jammu and Kashmir, as if they had a magic wand. What was actually happening on the ground'

“The militants, who were earlier confined to the Valley, fanned out in Jammu and Poonch-Rajouri and even Chamba in Himachal. One terrorist strike after another took place and, after each of them, our leaders would say this would be the last. People stopped taking them seriously,” admitted a senior leader.

People living in border areas were miffed with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for declaring that India would have an “aar paar ki ladayee (fight to the finish)” with Pakistan and saying the next day that “the sky now appears clear”.

“People actually picked on these two statements and asked what happened within the span of a few hours to first make the Prime Minister take a tough stand and then say things are normal,” said BJP sources.

The confusion over the state’s reorganisation also contributed to the poll debacle, BJP sources feel. The BJP’s refusal to support the creation of a separate Jammu state compelled the RSS to float the Jammu State Morcha just before the elections.

Although the two eventually had a seat-sharing arrangement, it was far from perfect. The BJP and the morcha contested against each other in some seats and also had no joint campaign.

“We couldn’t make up our mind on what to do, whether to support trifurcation or not. The state leaders were speaking in one voice and the central leaders in another,” sources said.

“Even within the central leadership, different voices were heard. One would say trifurcation is a good thing, another would say it is not. The conflicting signals left our cadre dispirited,” they added.

Party sources say another factor is the factionalism within the BJP. Of its eight previous legislators, the BJP expelled two while two others joined the NC in the run-up to the elections. “We lost 50 per cent of them,” said sources. It was alleged that state BJP chief Dayakrishan Kotwal and Union minister of state from Jammu Chaman Lal Gupta rarely saw to eye-to-eye on nominations. The result was that, in many seats, those denied tickets fought as rebels and ate into the BJP’s votes.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu conceded that including the NC in the NDA at the Centre was one of the reasons for the loss. He said the impression created was that the BJP and NC were together in Delhi but against each other in Jammu and Kashmir. “The upshot was that the state leaders were advised not to attack the NC too much in their campaign. So they could not project the BJP as a credible alternative,” sources said.

The signal from the Centre, “rightly or wrongly”, was that the endeavour must be to ensure that the NC returned to power, sources added. They said they could not understand why BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley was asked to speak to the NC on devolution of powers weeks before the polls.

The RSS, sources said, had also contributed to the BJP’s loss. With the BJP-morcha alliance in a mess, the RSS tacitly directed its cadre and sympathisers to vote “tactically” for the party best poised to defeat the NC instead of “wasting” it. BJP sources said the Congress and, to an extent, the Panthers Party were the “biggest gainers” of this strategy.

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