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Modi wave in Jammu forces political parties to change strategy

Jammu: The Modi effect, according to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, won't enthuse the average voter but "may galvanize the BJP cadres”. On Monday, Omar’s uncle and additional General Secretary of the ruling party in the state, Dr Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, said that if Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minster in the next general elections, the National Conference would develop a ‘harmonious’ relationship with him. In 9ther words, Kamal indicated that the dispensation that is likely to emerge in Delhi will get the support of the National Conference in coming months.

Kashmir-protest-PTI

Conflict in the state has led to imbalance in development. Representational image / PTI

All this posturing comes even as Kashmir-centric political parties start their normal routines from the winter capital of Jammu, a bi-annual exercise of shifting of office started by Dogra ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1872 called the 'Darbar move'. Along with the move to Jammu, Kashmiri leaders are facing a changed political landscape too, and a clear alteration in the mood of the electorate in Jammu.

Not only has an unanticipated popularity wave favouring BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi swept the Jammu region and its adjoining areas, but this rising popularity of Modi has also forced arch-rival Congress to significantly change its strategy.

“Hardly any other national leader has dominated the popular imagination of people of Jammu as Modi ji has. Even in the rural areas of Jammu, where people have been facing the wrath of mortar shells from Pakistan, I can tell you that we will wipe out the Congress from the political map of Jammu in 2014,” says BJP MLA Ashok Khajuria.

To counter the Modi wave, the PDP and the Congress both have indicated that they will field Brahmin candidates for the Parliamentary elections. Caste politics is important in the winter capital, though the ruling National Conference remains unsure.

The Congress, which was claiming until recently that it is the “only choice” for the people, is now feeling the heat.

Political analysts say the Modi wave in Jammu has unnerved the Congress party and it now wants to consolidate its base in the Hindu dominated areas of Jammu where Modi's popularity is the strongest in the state.

The Modi wave has forced the Congress to woo retired bureaucrats, leaders of other political parties “who have a strong base in Jammu”. Analysts say the present eagerness shown by the Congress is understandable, their desperation apparent. In fact, the list of people who joined the Congress in Jammu recently was given a go-ahead by party president Sonia Gandhi herself.

"The Modi factor has cast a paranormal spell over the local mindset in Jammu region and is somehow irking the Congress's plans,” a senior political analyst says.

Saffron politics has seldom dominated the political discourse of Jammu & Kashmir, except in the 2008 General Assembly elections when the BJP took its tally from 1 to 11 as it derived full mileage out of the Amarnath land row, for the first time in the history of electoral politics in Jammu and Kashmir. Its tally before that had been a single elected legislator.

But this time around, the state unit of the party has been hardselling its Prime Ministerial candidate with much rigour in Jammu. The party has also begun earnest preparations for a first-ever grand rally by the BJP in Jammu, to be addressed by Modi.

“It is not only development but the sense of empowerment which Modiji will bring to the people of Jammu. People in Jammu say apart from a good politician Modi will be a good administrator, a no-nonsense person, that is why they want him to become the prime minster of India,” Khajuria adds.

The two-decade-old conflict in Kashmir has led to Jammu prospering economically, as majority of the development funds were diverted to Jammu due to the hostile environment in Kashmir. The private sector has thrived in these two decades here, infrastructure has improved and small scale industries have doubled in number. But the state's politics have always been dominated by the Kashmir-centric visions of the regional parties.

“Kashmir has been always been treated like a special child this all will come to end when Modi becomes the prime minister,” says Anant Kumar a student of political science at Jammu University.

State Congress president Prof Saifuddin Soz denies that it is because of the Modi wave that the party is going in for a drive to recruit new players in Jammu. “Congress has emerged a vibrant force in all three regions of the state and the joining of more and more important leaders from political parties as well as the victory of the party in Kargil Council elections is the writing on the wall, that Congress would be the single largest party in the next Assembly elections,” Soz said.

The state has recently witnessed a unique trend of bureaucrats joining political parties. In fact, many here call it the rising bureaucratisation of politics.

One of the bureaucrats Showkat Ahmad Mir, a KAS officer, created a record of sorts, when he joined the National Conference in less than 24 hours of his superannuation. Mir was the deputy commissioner of Omar Abdullah’s Ganderbal constituency. This was followed by others, every political party in the state wanting its share of retired bureaucrats though the Congress has managed to get majority of them.

Congress has 16 members in the Legislative Assembly (12 in Jammu and 3 in Kashmir 1 in Ladakh). If the party loses a few more seats in Jammu region to a Modi wave in 2014, it can prove disastrous for the party.

Valley-based parties won’t allow the Congress to intrude in areas which are their bastions. The party has to ensure that it retains the seats which it is occupying. Or it would have to enter into a pre-poll alliance with either the National Conference or the Peoples Democratic Party.

Recently the Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah acknowledged the startling growth of the BJP in his state, and called Narendra Modi a man it would be dangerous to ignore.

Modi, who had earlier called off a visit to Jammu, and the BJP will now be looking to cash in on a sustained polarization over the past several months in Jammu region, only sharpened by the recent communal clashes in Kishtwar.

Months later, analysts feel, the party might benefit beyond Kishtwar, hoping in fact to replicate the success it experienced in the aftermath of the 2008 Amarnath agitation when it wrested votes from rival Congress, for the first time in history of Jammu and Kashmir.

Political analysts believe the popularity and likely influence of Narendra Modi in the Jammu area could leverage BJP’s political standing in the state, and help it retain its 11 seats being eyed by the Congress. “We will go to people with the appeal that sustained biased approach by Kashmir based parties will not be repeated in future. Modi as a prime minister would make sure we get rid of this,” Kamal Kishor a BJP youth activist says.