In this communally-sensitive town, where the BJP had for the first time invested heavily, Prime Minister Narendra Modi couldn’t break much ice with the Muslim community.
Even though the PM talked about development and inclusive approach, the community still sees him with suspicion.
“Modi still carries the tag of 2002. How could he be a changed man in just six months after being elected as PM. He follows the RSS line and we know their views about us,” said Shabir Ahmad (50), a resident of Kishtwar. He didn’t attend the rally, but watched it on TV.
This constituency has 55% Muslim population and borders with the Kashmir region. It has a history of communal violence, the last such incident being witnessed in 2013 when three people were killed.
It was first ever election rally by the Prime Minister here.
Two days back, home minister Rajnath Singh addressed a rally in Paddar, a Hindu majority area, about 40 km from here.
The communal divide, which could work in the BJP’s way, is not only evident but palpable. “About 90% Hindu votes will go to the BJP. We will vote for Modi for our security and development. He has talked about development and we believe in him,” said Ram Kumar (40), who attended the rally.
The BJP had lost the last assembly election by about 2,000 votes. It’s very keen to break-in here and this is also raising suspicion.
“The BJP has put in entire machinery here. Thousands of Sangh workers are working over time. This was never seen before. It’s just one of the constituencies. This evokes suspicion about intentions of the BJP, though PM has not said anything communal in his speech,” said Sajjad Hussain (42), a contractor.
The party has given ticket to a Muslim in the neigbouring Inderwal constituency. The party candidate from Kishtwar, Sunil Sharma, who had contested the last elections, is also approaching Muslims this time.
A substantial number of Muslims attended the rally and listened to the Prime Minister and responded to his calls. “The speech was balance and constructive. But the suspicion can’t go away so soon. We will watch him for some time. And may vote for him in the next elections if he performs, but not now,” said Mohammad Ishtaq (24), who attended Modi’s rally.