BJP holds meet, readies J&K poll strategy
Encouraged by the turnout in the 2018 panchayat polls in the Kashmir Valley, the Bharatiya Janata Party is preparing a strategy to make inroads into the Muslim majority region ahead of the state assembly polls, likely to be held later year, three leaders familiar with the matter said.
In the 2018 panchayat elections, the Jammu region had witnessed an average turnout of 83.5% and the Kashmir Valley recorded 41.3%, which was, however, more than the average turnout recorded in the Lok Sabha elections —10%.
The BJP is also discussing a slew of programmes – government and political – that will help it make inroads into the region, the leaders cited above said.
Programmes such as hoisting of the Tricolour on August 15 in every panchayat across the 10 districts of the Valley are planned to draw support from voters.
BJP’s working president Jagat Prakash Nadda on Tuesday held a meeting with the party’s core group from J&K in Delhi to discuss the future programmes that will set the tone for the assembly elections.
J&K is currently under President’s rule and awaits election for the 87-member state assembly. The last election returned a split verdict, forcing rivals — the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party — to enter into an alliance that came to an end in June 2018. The PDP had won 28 and the BJP 25 in the 2014 assembly elections.
The BJP continues to have a hold over Jammu, which accounts for 37 assembly seats, and expects to better its performance in Ladakh with 4 assembly segments.
“The valley is the real problem for the BJP,” the first leader said. “It has 46 assembly seats, and we have limited presence there. We have to increase our footprints there.”
The BJP has a two-pronged strategy for the Valley. First, it aims to increase it cadre size across 10 districts of Valley. The ongoing membership drive in J&K has seen new enrolments in Kashmir, the second leader said.
The BJP claims to have about 3.5 lakh workers in the Valley alone and it aims to double this number by August 31, when party’s membership drive ends. The membership base will be increased through enrolment as well as those crossing over from rival parties, the second leader said.
Second, the saffron party will aim to break hegemony of the Kashmir-based PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti, and National Conference led by the Abdullahs by supporting “independent” and “fresh faces” in the Valley.
If new faces win from the Valley, it will limit the catchment area for the PDP and the NC and give an advantage to the BJP, the third leader said.
“The turnout during panchayat election, which the PDP and NC boycotted, was over 40 per cent while it dipped to about 7 per cent in parliamentary election, when the two parties were on board,” the third leader said.
“This shows that Kashmiri people have lost faith in the two family-run parties and there is a window for new groups.”
Several new faces have won panchayat election and many of them draw popular support in their area. “Many of them want to toe a line independent of the PDP and the NC. We will support them,” the third leader said.
The BJP won 3 out of 6 Lok Sabha seats of the state in this summer election and emerged the single largest party with 46% vote share.
BJP’ J&K chief Ravindra Raina said security forces had said it was not possible to hold assembly elections along with Lok Sabha polls. “We said we are ready for assembly election whenever Election Commission decides to hold it,” he told reporters in Delhi.
Another BJP leader present in the core group meeting said focus of the campaign would be on development and anti-corruption action by the Centre since the state is under President’s rule.
“Those who have ruled in the past are rattled by this and, therefore, are raising extraneous issues such as deployment of troops,” this leader said.