Faced with the rapidly eroding popularity of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has stepped in to help the party renew its message and recover its appeal.
In the run-up to the state assembly polls in 2014, the BJP had made promises on a number of polarising issues including scrapping Article 370, that affords the state a degree of autonomy, and ending the hegemony of Muslim-dominated Kashmir over the Hindu-majority Jammu region. Youth in Jammu were also promised jobs, a particularly sensitive subject given the perception that the majority of jobs go to Kashmir.
However, soon after winning a record 25 seats in the Jammu region, the BJP decided to form a coalition government with the People's Democratic Party (PDP). That came as a shock to the people of Jammu who consider the PDP a Kashmir-centric party.
Several issues became flashpoints between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. The BJP was unable to resolve these flashpoints in Jammu's favour, and that undermined its credibility with its supporters. People in Jammu say the BJP has knelt before its alliance partner PDP and agreed to whatever it wanted for the sake of sharing power.
The declining popularity of BJP in Jammu has set off alarm bells in the RSS. Ravinder Raina, a hardcore RSS man and BJP member of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative Assembly, was made the state president of BJP. His appointment is seen as an attempt by the RSS to take direct control of the BJP's party organisation in the state. Raina, in 2015, had famously slapped independent MLA, Sheikh Abdul Rasheed, inside the state Assembly for hosting a ‘beef party’ at the MLA hostel in Srinagar.
Hari Om, a professor and a Jammu-based political commentator, said the decline of the BJP began soon after it took over the reins of the government in alliance with PDP. "While the BJP won the elections on issues of discrimination of Jammu and its neglect by the Kashmir-dominated parties, it formed an alliance with PDP that talks of 'self-rule' and the involvement of separatists and Pakistan in resolving the Kashmir issue," he said.
He added that the recent demand for a CBI investigation into the rape and murder case of a minor girl in Kathua district was another nail in the coffin for BJP. "The BJP did nothing to assuage the feelings of the people of Jammu, who believe that accused were framed in the case." The party sacked two ministers, Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, for taking part in a rally organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch, seeking a CBI probe into the rape and murder case.
Online expression of anger
Anger in Jammu was visible on the official Facebook page of the state unit of BJP where the party was lambasted for towing the line of the PDP and not allowing a CBI probe into the incident. It is learnt that PDP had instructed the BJP leadership to sack both the ministers ahead of the party's crucial meeting on 14 April.
"People of Jammu region have sacrificed a lot for the sake of unity and integrity of the country," said Lal Singh. "We will continue making sacrifices, but we will not allow anyone to play with our sentiments, emotions, honour and dignity. We want a CBI probe in the Kathua case and nothing else. Those who are sitting silently and call themselves the leaders of Jammu region should bear in mind people will not forgive them as and when they get a chance."
In a recent interaction with the media in Jammu, the RSS demanded the deportation of Rohingya refugees who are staying "illegally" in parts of Jammu and termed them as a threat to the integrity of the nation. The BJP had remained tight-lipped over the issue despite several political and social organisations demanding the same.
A prant sanghchalak of the RSS, Brigadier (Retd.) Suchait Singhm said the Rohingya enter India illegally and they should be deported immediately. "Rohingya migrants are a threat not only to Jammu but also to the nation" said Singh. Commenting on the recently launched outreach programme of the RSS, he told this correspondent that RSS shakhas will be held in different parts of Jammu. "We are going to hold one such shakha in Bhasoli in Kathua district soon," he said.
Last July, the RSS had conducted an all-India conclave in Jammu to consolidate its support base. The conclave was attended by senior functionaries of the RSS and the BJP. It was conducted with the aim to consolidate Hindus in Jammu and to send a message across the region that the saffron party was taking up their issues at every level.
This March, RSS sah-sarkaryavah Manmohan Vaidya visited Jammu and summoned BJP leaders and ministers for a meeting, where he is learnt to have berated them for their failure to take up issues concerning Jammu. "Issues including illegal Rohingya settlers, Kathua rape and murder case and discrimination against the Jammu region were discussed by the senior RSS leader. He took feedback to be discussed with other senior functionaries of RSS," said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named.
Recently, the BJP was back in the eye of a storm when its senior leader and speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Nirmal Singh accused the army of "harassing people" when it raised security concerns over the construction of his lavish bungalow on a 12-acre plot in Nagrota. Many political and social organisations criticised the BJP for accusing the army of wrongdoing. Nirmal denied he ever uttered a word against the army.
Opposition parties have left no stone unturned to target the BJP over the continuous ceasefire violations across the international border in the Jammu region. Devender Singh Rana, provincial president of the Opposition National Conference said, "There is a continuous blood trail from Poonch to Kathua on the Line of Control and the international border with residents of the forward areas and soldiers falling like sitting ducks. The jingoism of the BJP won't insulate people from shelling and firing from across the border."
The author is a Ludhiana-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: Jun 15, 2018 17:37 PM