Jammu and Kashmir polls: BJP formula of soft separatism plus pundit vote may fail

Hina Bhatt is BJP’s face in Srinagar. But she will now be remembered more for her fist of fury and foot in mouth -- both symbols of her party’s strategy in the Jammu and Kashmir.

Bhatt, who is contesting from the city’s Amira Kadal constituency, ‘misbehaved’ with a poll official. Bhatt claimed that she had reacted after noticing that the official was helping the PDP cast bogus votes.

Referring to the 1987 poll defeat of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, then contesting as a Muslim United Front candidate, she said, "I was very young at that time when elections were rigged and Syed Salahuddin was made to lose. The same thing is happening again."

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front  activists shout pro-freedom slogans calling for poll boycott in Srinagar. AFP

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front activists shout pro-freedom slogans calling for poll boycott in Srinagar. AFP

The irony of her statement wouldn’t have been lost on many — a BJP candidate fears meeting the fate of a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist in Narendra Modi’s India.

This is not the first time Bhatt has left people wondering which side of the political divide she represents. A few weeks ago Bhatt had threatened to pick up the gun against abrogation of Article-370, even though the issue was raised by her party.

The BJP can although argue that Bhatt is new to politics and, like Sadhvi Jyoti’s diatribe, it should be forgiven and forgotten because of her background.

Yet, the BJP’s coquettish attitude towards separatists in this election is amusing, if not downright alarming. Apart from the likes of Bhatt, who have confounded many with their stance that is contrary to the BJP’s stand on issues that are at the core of the Kashmir debate, the party’s strategy suggests a lot of compromises in the pursuit of power.

The BJP game plan is simple: sweep Jammu and win as many seats as possible in the Valley, by the soft-separatism hook. So, it has not been squeamish about dropping hints of its proximity to Sajjad Ghani Lone’s People’s Conference and has been ambiguous on statements made by the likes of Bhatt, who talk more about Syed Salahuddin and less about Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.

The BJP is hoping that it would win around 25 seats outside the Valley. It hopes to make up the numbers—44 MLAs are required for a majority— with the support of its proxy candidates like Lone. This will give it a shot at power.

Interestingly, its initial calculations depended on a boycott. There are at least five constituencies in the Valley—including Bhatt’s Amira Kadal and the adjoining Habba Kadal—where Kashmiri pundits have a significant presence. A scenario where pundits voted in large numbers and others stayed home would have helped the BJP.

The polling in Srinagar—the bastion of separatists—was around 28 percent, nearly seven percent more than 2008 but abysmally low compared to the turnout in the previous phases. The lower turnout could be attributed not just to the impact of the separatists but also the belief that the urban, educated voters of Srinagar do not wish to participate in elections. Several local dailies pointed out on Monday that most of the voters stayed home voluntarily in support of their fight for a separate Kashmir.

Still, the BJP may not benefit.

After the fourth round of polling on Sunday, there is evidence that its strategy may not have worked. According to Greater Kashmir, only 11524 votes (out of nearly 55000) were polled in Habba Kadal. Out of these only 2817 (out of nearly 16000) were of migrant voters. If the migrant votes get divided between the BJP’s Moti Kaul, the Congress’ Raman Mattoo and another pundit candidate contesting as a Lok Janshakti Party candidate, one of the two regional parties would benefit.

Even the migrant voters may have let down the BJP in spite of the party’s spirited campaign to enlist their support. According to the election commission, around 9500 migrants had registered for polling but only half of them cast their votes.

Did the pundits too not take the BJP seriously in the Valley? One of the possible answers could have come from Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Valley-based Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti. “The BJP has always used the miseries of our community to gain the maximum vote bank, to gain the maximum support from the Hindu fundamentalists,” Tickoo had told the diplomat recently.

Is this why the Bhatts of the BJP have now started talking about the Salahuddins?

Updated Date: Dec 15, 2014 20:41 PM

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