After two decades, Moti Kaul has returned to his birthplace, Fateh Kadal in Srinagar, to fight an election.
His party, the BJP, has started an audacious attempt at ‘fateh’ or victory in the state. But more challenging will be to build the ‘kadal’ — local term for bridge — between Hindus and Muslims, Pandits and separatists, the India state and those who feel alienated by it, given Kashmir’s tumultuous history.
Kaul, a 67-year-old engineering consultant based in Mumbai and a Pandit, is BJP’s man for the Habba Kadal constituency, in the heart of which lies Fateh Kadal. He has spent 17 early years here, and later headed for six years the All-India Kashmiri Samaj which worked for Pandits in exile after being driven out during ’90s insurgency. He could prove important for the BJP.
“When PM Narendra Modi set Mission 44+ as target, it wasn’t one of those emotional things. A lot of work had gone into it,” Kaul told HT in Delhi recently. “We are more than confident of getting most of the Jammu seats, go beyond expectations.
The big question looms: Will Muslims vote for the BJP?
Kaul said the Bakarwals and Gujjars among Muslims may have come forward more readily, but others were following.
“In Kashmir, even a year ago, people thought there isn’t much space for the BJP. But Modi-ji has created an aura. I see a lot of enthusiasm in the Valley. The common man has suffered a lot. Why have they suffered? Because of the ruling families. These families have had a ball,” said Kaul.
On Pandits, the BJP is strongly hopeful.
“They see a ray of hope in Modi-ji. Not a single vote will go anywhere else,” he said. “Look at my 25 years of exile. The Congress, NC and PDP were in power. Have they moved even an inch to give us any advantage?”
He said even the local population had suffered. “What I saw 40 years ago, I still see now. Dirty nullahs and Jhelum, electricity problems.”
This election, the BJP will be seen as opportunistic if it doesn’t stick to its stand on lifting Article 370, face alienatation in the Valley if it does.
“Article 370 is not going to be our election plank. The PM has categorically mentioned the need for a debate. We have a J&K constitution. People will have to talk about it, decide,” said Kaul.
Refused to dwell on BJP’s mobilisation of Pandit votes from across the country, he underscored the community’s suffering.
“See how difficult they have made our lives. When we left in 1998, there were 2.5 lakh Pandit voters. The children were small. It should have grown to 3 lakh. But there are just 1 lakh now. Why?” he said. “The politico administrative set-up played havoc with our lives. Removed our names, introduced mistakes to disqualify us.”
Even those one lakh Pandit voters need to fill an M-form for migrants. “This despite the relief commissioner having my entire data. The M-form then goes to my constituency, where it can be cancelled because of a missing ‘e’ or ‘m’. The lakh becomes 10,000,” he said.
Kaul stressed on the Valley’s potential to develop world class tourism, besides investments in infotech and the financial sector which will bring the jobs.
Does the BJP want a Hindu CM in J&K?
Kaul balks: “This is another attempt by our rivals to divert attention from their wrongs. The BJP has never talked about a Hindu or a Muslim CM. We have tens and tens of competent and experienced candidates. The best man will get the job.”