Modi’s party banks on Muslim clerics in Valley

SRINAGAR: Anti-incumbency has pushed the ruling dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir aside, placing the National Conference and Congress in a position of disadvantage while clearing the way for a straight fight between new player- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the upcoming Assembly polls. 

A resurgent BJP, riding high on the success rate of its star campaigner- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has its sights on crossing the 44+ mark to make history, winning over India’s only Muslim majority state. 

The party which has already won Jammu, Ladakh and Udhampur in the general elections, comprising 41 assembly segments believes it has an appeal among voters in Hindu-majority Jammu.

However, in the Kashmir Valley which has a Muslim-majority demographic, the BJP is placing its bets on Islamic clerics from other states to canvass on its behalf on the development plank.

TOI reports that, the fact that state CM Omar Abdullah took months to find a safe seat probably speaks for the fear-factor within his party, going into the Assembly elections later this month. The BJP, sensing bright prospects, is still on its Mission 44-plus trajectory, to cross the half-way mark in the state’s 87 assembly seats. It is focusing on 25 of the 37 seats in Jammu, where in the recent LS polls it held a lead. After an impressive showing, in Jammu, Ladakh and Udhampur in the general elections the BJP is confident, it can depend on its voter appeal in Hindu-majority Jammu.

In the Kashmir Valley, however, it is a different story. The lotus seems to be struggling in the Valley's 46 seats. Barring one or two constituencies, its chances look slim. The BJP knows it cannot bank entirely on Pandits. Recently, Vinod Pandit, chairman, All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee, demanded a blueprint on rehabilitation of the displaced community from all parties. Should they fail to satisfy, the community would press NOTA, he said.

In the Valley, demands for a resolution of the Kashmir issue assume importance, even though rural voters clamour for government jobs. That's why PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed focuses on friendly ties with Pakistan. He talks of soft borders and trade. These strike a chord. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti says her party would strive for good governance and jobs and she talks of making J&K a true welfare state.

To make inroads into this difficult terrain, the BJP has come up with a range of strategies. According to a report in the Hindustan Times the BJP has deployed Islamic clerics from other states to canvass for it. One of the key campaigners for the party is Deoband-based Maulana Suhaib Qasmi who heads the Jami’at Ulema-e-Hind that reportedly has about 16,000 clerics as its members.

Qasmi’s endorsement of the BJP hasn’t surprised analysts since he openly supported Narendra Modi ahead of the Lok Sabha polls this year.

“They (the clerics) are here to clear misconceptions about the party. They are here to tell people that BJP is not anti-Muslim,” said Altaf Thakur, the party’s media in-charge in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Lok Sabha elections gave the party a head start as it won three of the six seats in the state with Modi’s popularity pulling Hindu votes towards the BJP.

Qasmi, who said during the parliamentary polls that Muslims should barter support for development, says Kashmir is craving for growth and Modi is the only leader who can accomplish this. “We are here to listen to problems of the people and help find solutions,” he said.

The cleric said those judging Modi must go beyond the 2002 Gujarat riots narrative as the country also witnessed several instances of communal violence under Congress-led regimes.

Qasmi said the PM’s “Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” slogan is in the right spirit and “there is hardly any rally where he (Modi) has not mentioned Muslims.”

Apart from Muslims, the BJP is trying to woo social media users in a big way. The party has called in seven IT experts from Mumbai, setting up a media war room in Srinagar’s Raj Bagh area.

Shakeel-ul-Rehman, who heads the party’s social media cell in Jammu and Kashmir, said his team will be sending out constant updates on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to inform and engage voters.

“We will be telling people about the party’s aim, promises and also give updates about rallies, interactions across the state,” he said.

Part of the BJP’s strategy to win in J&K, is also a bifurcated pitch across regions. In Jammu, it talks of the need to abrogate Art 370, whereas, in Kashmir the stress is on development and governance. “The PM will woo voters promising development across J&K and good governance,” Hina Bhat, BJP candidate for Amira Kadal says. Keeping Art 370 on slow burn, BJP's Ram Madhav and Union minister V K Singh have been quoted as saying, scrapping of the Article would be the prerogative of the people of J&K. Trans Asia News

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