Separatist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir have adopted a deliberate go-slow approach to their poll boycott call, which they believe would dent the BJP’s prospects at least in the Valley.
The BJP has fielded several Pandit candidates hoping that the boycott would polarise votes and help them win.
The Congress bagged 21 seats in the 87-member assembly in the last election. However, it drew a blank in all six seats it contested with former ally NC in the Lok Sabha polls. Former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad lost the Udhampur seat to the BJP’s Jitendra Singh, a big blow to the party.
“We have only issued press statements. The permanent settlement of Jammu and Kashmir is a bigger issue for us and we don’t want to get into this six-year election cycle of boycotts,” said Shahid-ul-Islam, the media advisor to the Mirwaiz.
The boycott statements have become a mere formality. No posters or wall graffiti was visible in any one of the five seats that went to the polls in the first phase on Tuesday. In the bylanes of downtown Srinagar, which have traditionally been the support base of the separatists, Kashmiri Muslims openly speak of braving the boycott call to keep the BJP out.
“I will die rather than have the BJP repeal Article 370 which gives us our identity and special status,” said Tanvir Ahmed, a shopkeeper. He did not vote in 2008 but vowed not to waste his vote this time because it has become a question of identity for himself as well as his birthplace.
Geelani, under house arrest, denied the separatists were pursuing a go-slow strategy. He said posters and pamphlets couldn’t be seen because he and his foot soldiers are in preventive custody.
“The jails are full of my men. The army and paramilitary have forced people out. For us, all parties are the same. But yes, we all know how communal the BJP is. None of us have forgotten the Gujarat riots.”
The BJP has carefully avoided any rhetoric on repeal of Article 370 from its poll campaign and it has yet to release its manifesto. But the fear that the party might push its agenda has led to unprecedented polarisation.
“The BJP has been ambiguous on Article 370 but the high turnout has to some extent proven that the voters are unambiguous about keeping the BJP at bay, especially because this is the first time that the party has emerged as a serious player,” said a senior bureaucrat.
“The next two phases will make it clear. We don’t see the separatists pushing the boycott and they are doing that as strategy,” the bureaucrat added.