What BJP should learn from J&K polls: Most Muslims don't trust them yet

Every time Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rally in Kashmir, he was seen wearing a pheran — the loose overcoat people drape over their clothes during winters.

The pheran was an apt metaphor for the way the BJP was trying to dress up its Kashmir campaign. Deep inside the party believes in its idea of Hindu nationalism, but in Kashmir it had cloaked it with development and subtle appeasement of the Muslim voters.

Modi tried many things in the Valley that were contrary to the character and culture of the party. He remained silent on Article-370; refrained from signing off with Vande Mataram after his speeches in Kashmir, tried to take credit for the Army’s apology for killing some innocent youth, flirted with hardliners like Sajjad Lone and gave tickets to many Muslim candidates. But none of this helped his party in the Valley.

Now that the BJP has failed to make massive impression in Kashmir, will it be tempted to discard the pheran and unabashedly flaunt its tested formula of development, Hindutva and minority bashing? The case for giving up the pheran and the pretence is compelling. Amidst all the possible outcomes of the election in Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir, only a BJP win in Kashmir had the potential to shock and surprise. Everything else was foreseen after the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.

 What BJP should learn from J&K polls: Most Muslims dont trust them yet

Jammu and Kashmir. AFP.

The BJP had won 12 out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand and three out of the six seats in J&K just a few months ago. Since nothing calamitous had happened, it was expected to repeat its performance in these two states. The real challenge for the BJP, a giant leap forward, was its Mission-44. But the BJP managed to win just 25 seats. It failed to open its account in Kashmir and Ladakh, its influence diminished a bit in Jammu, where it won all of its seats but lost 12 out of the 37 seats in the region.

Its vote share in the state fell from nearly 31 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections to around 24 per cent. On paper, J&K was not much different from the other states BJP has won this year. Like Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, the BJP had the advantage of fighting against an incumbent government that had become unpopular; like everywhere else, voters in J&K appeared to be voting for bijli, paani and good governance, promises that have become synonymous with Modi. Theoretically, the BJP should have won in J&K.

But, fundamentally there is a difference between Kashmir and the other states, including the Jammu region, where elections were held this year: it has a majority of Muslim voters. The BJP’s rout north of Jammu means the party still can’t win where Muslims decide the outcome. It still can’t convince minority communities to vote for the BJP.

The BJP can, of course, ignore all these details and look at the big picture that reveals the party has more than doubled its seats in the state. But the harsh truth is that Modi failed in Kashmir in spite of his best efforts and several ideological compromises.

A large section within the BJP would now be tempted to argue that the party should stop wasting time and energy on wooing minority voters. If Muslims are not going to vote for the BJP, why risk losing the support of its core Hindutva base by making ideological compromises? Why not just behave and act like a party of Hindus?

If this is the key takeaway for the BJP from this election, we would soon witness further escalation of the Hindutva agenda in the party. Elections are due next in Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP stands to gain a lot from a communally charged environment.

Ironically, Kashmir can keep the BJP away from the temptation of playing the politics of polarization. If the party becomes part of the next government in J&K, either with the help of National Conference and independent MLAs or as the PDP’s partner, the BJP will find it impossible to keep the Valley quiet and the alliance intact if it pursues a divisive agenda or rakes up contentious issues. It will have no option but to behave.

The responsibility of running the government, especially with a party like PDP that represents the aspirations of the state’s Muslim-majority, will make it incumbent upon the BJP to keep its lunatic fringe under control and its Hindutva agenda hidden behind a pheran.

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2014 10:47:53 IST