BJP’s absence in Kashmir’s crucial seats: Tactical move or acknowledgment of Valley’s ground realities?


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Voters show their voting documents before casting their votes during phase-IV of voting for the Lok Sabha elections on May 15, 2024.
| Photo Credit: ANI

In the first major election to be held in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not contesting from any of the three Valley seats—Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag—leaving the electoral battle to two major regional parties, the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had six candidates in the fray in Jammu and Kashmir but failed to win a single seat in Kashmir.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said last month, while addressing an election rally in Jammu, that the saffron party was not in a hurry to see the ‘lotus bloom’ in the Valley. In a recent interview to The Hindu, he said: “We decided that we will first build up our organisation on the ground and then field a candidate.”

A senior BJP leader in Kashmir, Hina Shafi Bhat, told Frontline that Kashmir’s three seats would not decide the fate of BJP in the country. “The parliamentary committee of BJP took a decision not to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Kashmir this time. It is not important to be in power everywhere because we will have 500 people in Parliament.”

The leaders of the two regional parties, NC and PDP, have maintained that the BJP is relying on proxy candidates, and has set up B and C teams in the Valley: Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference, and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP).

While the BJP is not formally aligned with any regional party in Kashmir, where its vote share in 2019 was less than two per cent, the saffron party is supporting what BJP leaders call “like-minded parties”. Senior BJP leader and Jammu and Kashmir spokesperson Altaf Thakur told Frontline: “BJP leaders used their democratic right to cast votes to like-minded parties who believe in patriotism, peace and development.”

Also Read | Why Kashmir has not seen an election boycott this time

During his Jammu rally, Shah asked the people not to vote for NC, PDP and the Congress, which leaves BJP’s proxies. Both Bukhari and Lone have supported each other in the election. Bukhari did not field any candidates in Baramulla seat and declared support to Lone. Likewise, Lone did not field any candidates in Srinagar and Anantnag-Rajouri seats, declaring support to Apni Party.

Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari and party leaders carry out a roadshow in Srinagar.

Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari and party leaders carry out a roadshow in Srinagar.
| Photo Credit:
ANI

According to Nadeem Parra, the brother of Waheed Parra, the PDP candidate for the Srinagar constituency, abstaining from contesting the election in Kashmir is a tactical decision for the BJP. “The party knows the reality that it will lose in Kashmir. The lack of support in the Valley has forced the top brass to focus on the rest of the country,” Parra told Frontline after casting his vote in Naira village of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

Noor Ahmad Baba, a political analyst and former professor of political science at the University of Kashmir, said that the BJP did not expect the people of Kashmir to vote for it after it repealed Article 370 and also reduced its status to a Union Territory.

Testing the waters

Similarly, professor Saifuddin Soz, former Union Minister said that the BJP quickly realised that the people are still angry about the abrogation of Article 370, which is why it brought in proxies in the form of a few regional parties. According to Soz even these proxies would be rejected by the people.

Most analysts and journalists believe that the BJP is testing the waters with its proxies to gauge the public mood and prepare the ground for the Assembly election scheduled to be held later this year. “BJP has taken a smart step. In order to avoid an embarrassing defeat, it decided to use proxies and get ready to challenge in the Assembly elections,” said Abdul Rashid, a 45-year-old voter from the Srinagar constituency.

National Conference President Farooq Abdullah and his son former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah show their inked fingers after casting their votes.

National Conference President Farooq Abdullah and his son former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah show their inked fingers after casting their votes.
| Photo Credit:
NISSAR AHMAD

The leaders of the NC and PDP have questioned the absence of the BJP in the fray. Former Chief Minister and NC vice president Omar Abdullah asked in a TV interview, “If the people were okay with the scrapping of Article 370, the BJP wouldn’t have surrendered polls in Kashmir.”

Also Read | Why deferment of Lok Sabha election in Anantnag-Rajouri has triggered controversy

There is another factor. Earlier this month, Abdullah said in a media interview that fielding Muslim candidates in Kashmir would have made BJP’s anti-Muslim stance in the rest of the country a little difficult to sell. “You cannot field non-Muslim candidates in the overwhelmingly Muslim majority seats in Kashmir. If I am not wrong, there is not a single Muslim candidate fighting on a BJP ticket anywhere in India today.”

A senior journalist who has covered Jammu and Kashmir since the 1999 Kargil war told Frontline that the BJP could not find potential candidates to contest. “Over the years, the BJP has invested in various candidates but eventually it could not lead them into the Lok Sabha election.”

On the other hand, BJP party workers, mainly from the Pir Panjal region, are resentful of the party’s decision to not field candidates in the Anantnag-Rajouri seat either, especially after the Modi government granted Scheduled Tribe status to the Pahari community and implemented Forest Rights Act in Jammu and Kashmir for the Gujjar community. The workers claimed that these initiatives had created a good support base for the BJP in Rajouri and Poonch districts.



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