BJP Plans ‘Tral Model’ Across Kashmir; Its Main Threat is NC
How the National Conference is emerging as the main obstacle to the BJP’s expansion plans in Kashmir
Earlier this week, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah warned that there could be a BJP MLA from Tral if there is a poll boycott in the Kashmir Valley.
He pointed out the irony that the town of prominent militants like Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa gave a lead to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year.
Abdullah’s comment was misconstrued as praise for the two militants but the real story is how the NC is apprehensive of the BJP’s attempts to replicate the “Tral Model” across the Valley in the Assembly elections.
Now, what exactly happened in Tral?
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, only 1,012 people voted in the Tral Assembly segment in the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency.
This was less than two percent of the total number of voters in the segment. Just for the sake of comparison, over 38,000 people had voted in Tral in the 2014 Assembly elections.
Out of the 1,012 votes cast in Tral in the Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s Sofi Yusuf got 323 followed by NC’s Hasnain Masoodi at 234, PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti at 220, Congress’ Ghulam Ahmad Mir at 144, giving BJP its only lead in the Kashmir Valley.
BJP hopes to replicate this in more constituencies across Kashmir when the Assembly elections are held.
BJP’s Four-Pronged Plan
To ensure that it is assured of some votes in all the constituencies across the Valley, the BJP is following a four-pronged plan.
- It is carrying out a membership drive across the Valley. It’s membership drive in-charge Shivraj Singh Chouhan was in Kashmir earlier this week. The party knows that it can’t win over pro-separatist sections so it is trying to win over workers and supporters of other political parties. In addition to this, it is trying to get on its side local businessmen who might seek benefits through the government or be afraid of raids by Income Tax or Enforcement Directorate officials.
- It is reaching out to Sarpanches and other local self government functionaries, assuring them protection as well as support from the Centre.
- It is trying to build a support base in every constituency by leveraging beneficiaries of central government schemes.
- It is mobilising Kashmiri Pandit migrants residing in Jammu and Udhampur to register and vote in large numbers through special booths.
In the Lok Sabha elections, Pandit migrants accounted for less than two percent of the total votes in the Valley, but in South Kashmir, migrant votes were about 6.6 percent.
Around 95 percent of all Pandit votes in the Valley went to the BJP. The BJP hopes that mobilising Pandit migrant voters to vote in special booths would give it an advantage in a few seats.
However, all these calculations can give the BJP a chance to open its account in Kashmir only if there is a comprehensive boycott of the elections by the separatists. Only that can ensure a low enough turnout for the BJP to grab a lead in Valley seats as it did in Tral in the Lok Sabha elections. A boycott becomes less likely if there is relative peace in the Valley.
It is possible that the Centre could intensify its crackdown on militants and separatists in the Valley in the weeks to come and the recent deployment of 10,000 additional forces could be a step in that direction. The Tral model, therefore, also stands for an intensive crackdown as was the case with the prominent militants from the town who were eliminated in encounters.
NC The Main Threat
The appeal of “pro-India” parties has considerably weakened in the Valley, so much so that “mainstream” may no longer be an accurate term for them. Having said that, the main obstacle to the BJP’s plan to expand in the Valley is the National Conference.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the National Conference led in 31 out of 87 Assembly segments in Jammu and Kashmir, BJP led in 29 and its ally Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference led in one.
The NC and BJP dominated the Kashmir and Jammu regions respectively. The NC led in 31 out of 46 Assembly segments in Kashmir, PDP led in just five, Congress in four, Langate MLA Engineer Rashid in four and BJP and its ally People’s Conference in one segment each.
On the other hand in Jammu, the BJP led in 25 out of 37 segments, while the Congress led in 12. Most of the Congress’ leads were in Muslim dominated pockets like Poonch and Rajouri.
In Ladakh, the BJP led in the three Buddhist dominated segments while an Independent backed by NC and PDP led in the Shia Muslim majority Kargil segment.
If the Lok Sabha election leads are replicated in the Assembly elections, the National Conference will comfortably be able to form a government with the help of the Congress.
The BJP understands that unless it is able to make inroads into the Valley and the Muslim-dominated parts of Jammu, it will be unable to cross 30 seats in the state.
The next best scenario for the BJP would be to sweep all Hindu and Buddhist dominated seats - winning 30-35 seats - and then ensure that the 46 seats in the Valley get divided between the NC, PDP, Congress, People’s Conference and the newly formed alliance between Engineer Rashid and former IAS officer Shah Faesal.
High Stakes For Low Turnouts
The NC is a threat to the BJP’s plan in another respect. Till now, low turnouts and election boycotts mostly worked in the NC’s favour as it was the only party in the Valley that has a reasonably strong network of party cadres and sympathisers. With hardly any cadre strength of its own, PDP often relied on the support of Jamaat-e-Islami cadres, particularly in its strongholds in South Kashmir.
Therefore, it did well whenever the Jamaat didn’t enforce the boycott effectively. In the last Assembly election, several non-aligned voters in Srinagar and North Kashmir also backed the PDP as it was seen as the best option to keep the BJP at bay. However, it came a cropper in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the boycott was enforced effectively.
On the other hand, boycotts helped the NC, which has a small but committed chunk of supporters in every Assembly segment. This could be due to the support of older voters who might have benefitted from NC’s land reforms or due to local patronage networks.
A good example of the latter is how four-time MLA Ali Mohammad Sagar’s has maintained his hold over Khanyar seat in Srinagar. Turnouts have been low almost always, but Sagar has managed to win with the support of poorer voters.
This time, however, the NC is afraid that low turnouts could lead to unpredictable results in the Valley, as is evident from Abdullah’s warning about what happened in Tral.
The BJP knows that the NC is its biggest obstacle in Kashmir and it is no surprise that much of the Centre’s attacks are against the party. Nothing exemplifies this more than the manner in which Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik has been attacking the Abdullahs.
Besides appealing to militants to target “corrupt politicians and bureaucrats” he also recently accused the Abdullahs of being at the root of all corruption in the Valley.
The Abdullahs on their part have been attacking the Centre on a variety of issues - from warning it against tampering with Article 35A to the blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu highway for civilians due to the Amarnath Yatra. Farooq Abdullah even used US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate on Kashmir, to target the Modi government.
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