Jammu: Unlike in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Rajputs of Jammu’s Udhampur constituency aren't sure which Rajput they should vote for. Not just the BJP and the Congress, but even the regional Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party has put up Rajput candidates in the constituency which has a significant Rajput population.
While the BJP is once again relying on sitting MP and Union minister Jitendra Singh, the Congress has decided not to repeat its 2014 mistake when it was left red-faced as party stalwart and senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad lost to Jitendra, a first-timer, by nearly 60,000 votes.
It is due to this factor that the party has decided to field Vikramaditya Singh, a Rajput and the grandson of Hari Singh, the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, from the Udhampur seat. The Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party has fielded another Rajput: Harshdev Singh.
And yet another Rajput is in the fray: Lal Singh, a controversial leader and former Congress MP who left the party to join BJP in August 2014, but changed his political affiliation again by launching his Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan in February.
While the Jammu region has two of the six Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir, the competition in Udhampur is particularly interesting as it has become a matter of pride for high-profile candidates.
The BJP is also facing a tough time in the wake of “failed promises” of removing articles 35A and 370 made before the 2014 elections. The party was also not been able to end the perceived Kashmir hegemony over Jammu region and create employment in Jammu, which has also infuriated the populace.
Battle of brothers
On the one side is Devender Singh Rana, provincial president of the National Conference, and the brother of BJP’s Jitendra Singh. On the other, senior BJP leader and Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Ajatshatru Singh, the brother of Congress candidate Vikramaditya Singh. Both Rana and Ajatshatru are taking part in the political campaign against their siblings.
Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency comprises 17 Assembly segments in Jammu that have a considerable Muslim population. Despite being a popular leader and Union health minister in the Congress government, Ghulam Nabi Azad was defeated by Jitendra in 2014 due to the Modi wave. The state was witnessing immense polarisation at the time.
Political commentator and historian professor Hari Om said Jammu and Ladakh are once again witnessing similar polarisation over discrimination due to the hegemony of Kashmir. “The elections will again see a contest between BJP and Congress in both Jammu and Ladakh where people will vote on religious lines. Ghulam Nabi Azad did not contest the polls this time apparently because he was aware that it could be a repeat of the 2014 poll,” Om stated.
Udhampur constituency has six districts of Jammu region including Kathua, Udhampur, Ramban, Reasi, Doda and Kishtwar. Of these, Doda has 53.82 percent Muslim population, Kishtwar 57.75 percent, Reasi 49.66 percent, and Ramban 70.68 percent. On the other hand, Udhampur has 88.12 percent Hindu population and Kathua 87.61 percent.
Despite the considerable Muslim population in the constituency, the BJP wrested power in 1996 under the leadership of Chaman Lal Gupta. In 2004 and 2009 Lal Singh won on a Congress ticket. The constituency has traditionally remained a Congress bastion.
Capt (Retd) Anil Gour, a member of Panthers Party, who is also a strategic and political commentator, believes that the Rajput votes will be split. “Being in significant numbers, the role of Rajputs in deciding the candidate cannot be ignored. However, since this time almost all the candidates are from the Rajput community, the voters may get confused,” he stated.
Will the blue blood sway voters?
The royal family is expected to campaign for Vikramaditya. His daughter is married to the grandson of Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, while his brother-in-law is Congress leader and Gwalior dynast Jyotiraditya Scindia. Both Jyotiraditya and Captain Amarinder will take part in Vikramaditya’s political campaign, according to reports.
The Congress has also received support from the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While the former entered into a partial alliance with Congress and decided not to field a candidate in Jammu region for two seats, the PDP has decided not to field its candidates in Jammu region so that “secular votes aren't split”.
The BJP is also taking aim at former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, with whom Vikramaditya’s grandfather Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. “Maharaja Hari Singh wanted to join dominion of India much earlier than October 1947, but Nehru did not allow that to happen due to a personal animosity. Nehru was dithering till Vallabhbhai Patel firmly asked him to accept the Instrument of Accession. However, Vikramaditya hides these historical facts as it does not suit him politically,” claimed BJP spokesperson Brig (Retd) Anil Gupta.
Vikramaditya started his political career with the PDP and was even nominated as party MLC in 2015. In October 2017, he left the PDP, claiming that his voice in favour of Jammu was being scuttled.
The Lal Singh factor
Besides Vikramaditya and Jitendra, Lal Singh is also another popular leader who cannot be ignored. He came to limelight for taking part in a rally that demanded CBI inquiry into the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua and rejected police investigation that indicted a group of locals. In April 2018, he resigned from the BJP and gained support among the Hindu population in the region.
Sant Kumar Sharma, a senior Jammu-based journalist, said it is not very clear as of now how effective Lal Singh will prove: “The elections are again shaping up as a vote for Modi or against Modi in the Lok Sabha. In that scenario, not many may vote for him. The votes he (Lal Singh) get may prove decisive for the victory of some other candidate.,”
“The Congress got more votes from Doda, Kishtwar and Banihal when Ghulam Nabi Azad was the candidate. Apparently, he was favoured by Muslim voters. With Vikramaditya, not as strong a candidate as Azad was, the Congress score may go down further,” remarked Sharma.
The author is a Ludhiana-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2019 20:32:57 IST