The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has deployed Islamic clerics from other states for canvassing in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley to boost its chances in the five-phase state election that begins this month.
A key campaigner for the party is Deoband-based Maulana Suhaib Qasmi who heads the Jamaat Ulema-e-Hind that reportedly has about 16,000 clerics as its members.
Qasmi’s endorsement of the BJP hasn’t surprised analysts since he openly supported Narendra Modi ahead of the Lok Sabha polls this year.
“They (the clerics) are here to clear misconceptions about the party. They are here to tell people that BJP is not anti-Muslim,” said Altaf Thakur, the party’s media in-charge in Jammu and Kashmir.
Confident of its chances in the core Hindu belt of Jammu, the BJP is going all out in the Valley with the target of winning 44 of the state’s 87 assembly seats.
The Lok Sabha elections gave the party a head start as it won three of the six seats in the state with Modi’s popularity pulling Hindu votes towards the BJP.
Qasmi, who said during the parliamentary polls that Muslims should barter support for development, says Kashmir is craving for growth and Modi is the only leader who can accomplish this.
“We are here to listen to problems of the people and help find solutions,” he said.
The cleric said those judging Modi must go beyond the 2002 Gujarat riots narrative as the country also witnessed several instances of communal violence under Congress-led regimes.
Qasmi said the PM’s “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” slogan is in the right spirit and “there is hardly any rally where he (Modi) has not mentioned Muslims.”
Apart from Muslims, the BJP is trying to woo social media users in a big way. The party has called in seven IT experts from Mumbai, setting up a media war room in Srinagar’s Raj Bagh area.
Shakeel-ul-Rehman, who heads the party’s social media cell in Jammu and Kashmir, said his team will be sending out constant updates on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to inform and engage voters.
“We will be telling people about the party’s aim, promises and also give updates about rallies, interactions across the state,” he said.