Srinagar, Aug. 24: A little rattled by the BJP’s “Mission 44+” push in Jammu and Kashmir, Valley leaders have begun signalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to attempt any imposition of a “Hindu political order” over the country’s only Muslim-majority state.
Their missives come variously intoned, from advice and plea in the name of “statesmanship” to dire and downright political warning. “The BJP under (Narendra) Modi and Amit Shah has begun indulging in naked sectarianism and is bent upon breaking the fragile socio-political fabric of Jammu and Kashmir,” the Jammu chief of the National Conference (NC), Devinder Rana, told The Telegraph.
“If they push things too far, there will be terrible consequences to deal with, especially in the Kashmir Valley. They should keep in mind playing communal politics in Bihar and UP is one thing, in Kashmir quite another. This is a border province and India’s most troubled one.”
The direction of Rana’s hint was unmistakable: more trouble, overt and covert, from across the LoC which has resounded with upscaled ceasefire violations, especially since New Delhi scrapped foreign secretary talks scheduled for tomorrow in Islamabad.
Rana, a key political aide to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, was also speaking in the context of recent assertions by BJP boss Amit Shah that installing an elected BJP government in the state would “send the right signal to the world”.
Shah, who opens his Jammu and Kashmir campaign tomorrow with a rally at Kathua in the Jammu region, has also directed rank and file to “put all their energies” into securing the state. “The rest of the states (going to Assembly polls this winter) we are winning,” Shah recently told party workers in Jammu. “It is Jammu and Kashmir we want to focus on most.”
The BJP has never won more than 11, its current tally, in the 87-member Assembly, but is hoping the “Modi wave” and Shah’s backroom management skills will provide unprecedented propulsion to its power ambitions.
A key to the emerging BJP strategy is consolidating lakhs of migrant Kashmiri Pandit voters which can tilt the balance in low-turnout constituencies and deliver the BJP its first Valley seats.
Shah is also likely to induct the former Congress MP and influential Jammu-region leader, Chaudhary Lal Singh, into the BJP at his Kathua rally. Lal Singh was denied the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat by the Congress this year to favour Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Azad eventually lost to Jitendra Singh of the BJP, who is currently junior minister in the Modi PMO and elder brother to the NC’s Devinder Rana.
Ahead of Shah’s inaugural poll thrust, Omar Abdullah ventured into downtown Srinagar today and cautioned the BJP against “dividing and polarising” the state on communal lines. “The BJP is charting a dangerous path with its divisive tactics to somehow grab power in the state,” Abdullah alleged.
The NC’s anxieties have been fanned by its current coalition partner, the Congress — they will contest the coming elections separately — no less.
Sham Lal Sharma, Congress minister in the Omar government, espoused the cause of a “Hindu chief minister” last week, a move widely perceived as playing catch-up with the BJP’s Hindutva championship in the Jammu region. Although the Congress has officially disowned Sharma’s statement, it has already contributed to fears the state may be headed for the bitterest and most divisive elections in recent memory.
Omar, who has just returned from a week in the UK overseeing treatment of his ailing father and former chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, also challenged his Valley rival, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, to “come clean on intentions" and decry the BJP's tactics.
“We have categorically said we shall have nothing to do with the communal BJP, I dare the PDP to make a similar declaration and clarify they are not hand in glove with the BJP,” Omar said.
The PDP, which believes itself to be on a comeback trail, is equally sensed of what it calls the “portentous implications” of the BJP’s bid for a power grip over Jammu and Kashmir.
“Their election slogans are fraught with immense possibilities of disruption,” said Naeem Akhtar, PDP spokesperson and the Mufti’s political aide. “We are a drop in the ocean of the Indian state, the only Muslim-majority province. What are you trying to do by setting out to smother or snatch its identity politically and constitutionally? After all, the renewed debate over Article 370 and the admission of a petition against it in the Supreme Court is not a matter of accident.”
But rather than dare the BJP at this stage, Akhtar issued a taunting goad to Prime Minister Modi’s “statesmanship”.
Perturbed by the BJP’s tenor, Akhtar said: “The only way the BJP can hope to fulfil its fantasy is by leaving the state violently riven. The Prime Minister should realise the coming election is his only opportunity to alter his image, rise above petty concerns and send out a positive signal to Indians, Kashmiris and Pakistanis that here is a statesman capable of eschewing narrow politics and objectives.”
It is unlikely the message coming off Amit Shah’s Kathua stage tomorrow will echo that sentiment.