The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now decided to contest on nearly 20 seats in the Kashmir region, which has 46 seats out of 87 assembly seats in the state. In a state divided on region and religion lines, the party is working on multi-pronged strategy, including the consolidation of Hindu votes, ethnic division of Muslims and communal polarisation.
The BJP in the last election had won 11 seats, all from the Jammu region, which was it's the highest-ever tally. The party had then contested on 69 seats, including 30 in the Kashmir region but drew a blank.
This time it is keen to open account in the Kashmir Valley and is hopeful for bagging about five seats, a figure even privately admitted by the Congress leadership is achievable by the BJP. It's strategy is to mobilise the Kashmiri Pandit and the Sikh votes, which could be decisive if there is a low voting percentage and division of votes in the Valley. The party is making strategy to give tickets to Sikhs and Kashmir Pandits in the Valley.
The party will support independent candidates and one-man parties there. About two months back, the Republic Revolutionary Party was launched in the Valley, which is being supported by different quarters. It is one among the many new parties recently launched in the Valley, which could divide the votes. Chief minister Omar Abdullah had also expressed concern over coming up many parties.
The BJP is also in talks with some individuals who make anti-India public posturing. Only recently Shabnam Lone, sister of Sajjad Lone, had praised the Modi government on its handling of the flood situation in the Valley.
"Things have changed dramatically in Kashmir for the party after the formation of Modi government. It could be a major political development there," said a senior party leader.
The party is working to expose the fault lines in the supposedly homogenous Kashmir Valley. The party has been trying to woo Shias for quite some time. Prime Minister Modi had also addressed a rally in Kargil, the only Shia dominated district in the state. Shias are in majority on the two seats of Kargil and have substantial votes in about five seats in the Valley. If there is consolidation of their votes, it could dramatically change the outcome. But Shias are affiliated do different political parties.
Along the line of control (LoC), there is heavy concentration of the Pahari speaking people and the Gujjars, culturally different from the Kashmiri speaking people. The party is concentrating on them. The party has been nurturing Gujjars for quite some time, who are also crucial in seven seats of Rajouri-Poonch districts of the Jammu region. PM Modi in his pre-election rally in Jammu had made specific mention of the Gujjars in his speech. Former National Conference MP Talib Hussain, a prominent Gujjar leader, who will get mandate from Rajouri district, is among the many Gujjar leaders roped in by the BJP.
In 13 seats of the Jammu region where Muslim votes would be crucial, the party is banking on the communal polarisation. Kishtwar and Bhaderwah seats are historically communal sensitive. Kisthwar had witnessed communal tension last year. The party feels the division of Muslim votes and en masse voting by the Hindus will make it the secure seat. It has happened in the parliamentary elections.
Consolidation of Hindu votes
24 seats of the Jammu region are the main plank of the party. Modi wave, anti-Congress sentiment and empowerment of the Jammu region, are the issues on which it is focusing. Modi wave hasn't subsided. The BJP's strategy is to use the card of giving Jammu a hope that it could have an upper hand over the Kashmir region if the party comes to power. But the problem will be in defeating the Congress ministers who had nurtured their constituencies over the years.