Blog: Why winning a seat from J&K is crucial for both Congress and BJP

Published: March 26, 2014 22:20 IST
Srinagar:  With only six seats, Jammu and Kashmir is numerically insignificant in the 545-member Lok Sabha. For years thus, this state with a controversial legacy and turbulent past has held little interest for national parties other than to use its internal and external dimensions to garner support at the national level.

This time, however, the general elections in J&K hold big significance for both the BJP and the Congress.

For the Congress, the elections are not just about retaining its Lok Sabha seats as the BJP brandishes what it calls a "Modi wave" in parts of Jammu. It also has a big stake in the state assembly elections due in November this year.

Since 2002, the national party has become an inextricable part of the power structure in J&K, owing largely to the two regional parties, National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) competing to ally with it. Losing ground in the parliamentary elections will have a direct impact on its assembly prospects.

With that in mind the party has fielded its senior-most leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, for the first time in a national election, dropping sitting MP Lal Singh from the Udhampur- Doda constituency. This is Mr Azad's home seat, but his leadership skills and popularity will be tested as he counters the BJP in the sensitive Jammu-Poonch region.

The Congress is banking on a repeat of the way he led the party in the state in the 2002 assembly elections. But will Mr Azad's charisma work given the track record of Congress ministers in the Omar Abdullah government in the state? Most of the Congress ministers face allegations of corruption and one had to resign after allegations of sexual assault on a woman doctor.

The question now being asked is, will Udhampur-Doda repeat history? In the 1977 elections, even as the Congress was routed by an anti-Emergency sentiment in all of north India, it won this J&K seat.

For the BJP, the stakes are perhaps much higher. Winning a seat or two from the state is not only important for the party towards its effort to get to a 272+ majority in Parliament, winning them from the country's only Muslim majority state carries massive symbolism.

Though the Jammu and Udhampur seats have more Hindu votes, a victory from Jammu and Kashmir will help the party as it seeks to demonstrate that it has acceptability among Muslims.

The BJP is the only national party that has prepared a road map on Jammu and Kashmir after engaging diverse opinions from the state over the past four years. Senior party leaders, including BJP president Rajnath Singh have visited the state frequently and tried to build on what the NDA government did under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee leadership a decade ago.

On Wednesday Mr Modi addressed his first "Bharat Vijay Rally" at Hira Nagar in Jammu and promised to carry forward the path shown by Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- humanity, democracy and Kashmiryat. Invoking Vajpayee legacy, Mr Modi said that if Vajpayee government had got another five years, it would have changed the face of Kashmir and problems would have ended.

Four months ago, when he addressed a rally in Jammu, Mr Modi had effected a u-turn in the party's stand on the contentious Article 370, which governs the relationship between the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India. Mr Modi now demanded only a debate on Article 370 to see if this special clause in the Indian constitution has benefited people of the state or not.

For decades the BJP had demanded abrogation of Article 370, citing it as a major hurdle in full integration of the state with the Indian union. The party's "softer stance" has won it admirers, even among those who want the separation of Kashmir from India.

Separatist leader of the Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is also head priest of Srinagar's Jamia Masjid, showered praise on the Vajpayee government for its Kashmir initiative. He expressed confidence that Mr Modi will follow the same path.

The state's main opposition party the PDP, that came to prominence through its soft separatism stance has repeatedly sent feelers to the BJP. The party's patron, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, stung by the Congress continuing its alliance with the National Conference, has accused the UPA of derailing reconciliation process started by the NDA.

The Mufti says it was the NDA which understood the sensitivities of Kashmir and took initiatives to start the dialogue process with separatists. The BJP has reiterated that it will follow in Mr Vajpayee's footsteps on Kashmir, laying emphasis on his famous quote "dialogue with Kashmiri separatists within the ambit of Insaniyat (humanity)."

Jammu has also been very critical for Hindutva movement. It is birth place of Praja Parishad (later Jana Sangh). It was in Jammu where Jana Sangh founder Dr Shama Parshad Mukherji was arrested after he violated entry permit system into J&K and subsequently died while in jail. For BJP finding common ground between the ideological commitment of Mukherji and the legacy of Vajpayee was big challenge and the party apparently has found the common ground by seeking debate rather than the confrontation.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this blog are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this blog. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing on the blog  do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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