BJP Banks on Refugee Votes to Achieve Mission 44+ in Jammu and Kashmir Polls

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Mela Ram with his newspaper cutting of PM Modi's recent speech in Jammu


Jammu:  Thousands of refugee voters settled in Jammu region will play a crucial role on Saturday when 20 constituencies will go to the polls in the final phase of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi in tow as a star campaigner, the BJP is pitching hard to gain votes of the refugee community, who hail from western Pakistan, by promising to give state citizenship rights.  

Close to 1.5 lakh refugees since partition have come to settle across Jammu from western Pakistan. Being citizens of India, they can contest and vote in the Lok Sabha elections. But, since they are not born in Jammu and Kashmir, they cannot contest or vote in state elections. They are denied state government jobs and even a ration card.

At an election rally in Jammu, PM Modi said, "Since 1947, the refugees have meted injustice, I promise you that we will change the fate of the 12 lakh refugee families who have been affected."

84-year-old Mela Ram has preserved a newspaper cutting of PM Modi's recent speech.  

Six decades after he migrated from Sialkot in Pakistan, Mr Ram continues to live without an identity card. His son is denied admission to college on being a refugee.

"I work on this loom and my children also do the same, they have no other choice, they couldn't even get education", says Mr Ram.

Jammu and Kashmir state rights will include the right to vote, to own property, get access to higher  education and access to government jobs.

Apart from the refugees from western Pakistan, the BJP is also heavily reaching out to over 10 lakh people who have migrated from the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) region and those who have been displaced during the wars with Pakistan.

BJP's incentive to them is the quota of 5 seats from the 24 seats traditionally and symbolically kept vacant for PoK every election. These seats are not part of the contested 87 seats in the state as they fall under the territory of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.

But unlike the refugees from western Pakistan, not all PoK refugees are backing the BJP.

 "We have decided not to support the BJP, we have told our candidates who are strong enough to defeat the BJP, we are not for any particular individual, but want people to vote for those who can defeat the BJP," says Rajeev Chunni, chairman of SoS International Organisation for PoK displaced people.

 


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