J&K Is a Losing Battle for BJP, Stoking ‘Communal Fire’ Won’t Help

If the BJP thinks communalising an issue will help it regain lost ground in J&K, it is certainly playing with fire.

3 min read

BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir unit’s President Sat Sharma faced such tough questioning from a young television journalist on the morning of the BJP rally, ie, on Sunday, that he walked away mid-question (the BJP rules in coalition with the largely Valley-based People’s Democratic Party). That news clip lowered the general impression of the party – which was already under question.

Very shameful, indeed. “Being a supporter of the BJP, feel ashamed on JK BJP (sic),” a reader wrote below the clip on the news channel’s page online. A series of critical, occasionally abusive, comments followed, interspersed with an occasional ‘BJP zindabad’.

This was ironic, for the BJP had organised this rally in the heart of Jammu, to try and showcase ‘achievements’ over the first three years of the state government’s six-year term.

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A Reshuffle Shadow

Insiders say that even party bosses, and their patrons in the RSS, have realised that the BJP has lost immense ground in the Jammu province. In fact, one interpretation of some of the polemical issues that have been recently raised is that they are meant to stave off a reshuffle of ministers and office-bearers.

If that is indeed the case, the activists who have proved inadequate as leaders, might only be making things worse for the party, even if some of them win a brief reprieve.

Several of those polemical issues sought to target the PDP, since a major grouse among the Jammu-based party’s erstwhile backers is that it has ceded dominance to its coalition partner. The two parties tend to be poles apart on several issues, including the best approach towards terrorism, and Pakistan.

One major issue of contention has been the police investigation into the army’s firing, in which three persons were killed in Shopian, in January 2018. The Supreme Court recently stayed the police investigation. The BJP wants the FIR quashed, and the PDP would lose face in the Valley if it backtracks.

Meanwhile, the BJP faces a revolt within its ranks in Nowshera, right by the Line of Control. A major agitation in Nowshera has focused, over the past few weeks, on the electoral promise to turn the area into a separate district.

A Minor’s Rape Stirs Communal Sentiments

The rape and murder of an eight-year old girl in Kathua last month has become a far more explosive issue. The local police botched up the investigation into the horrific crime from the start, even ‘destroying’ crucial evidence. There are strong suspicions of collusion and a cover-up.

The local Hindu Ekta Manch has agitated in support of the men arrested in connection with the crime. Two prominent BJP ministers have participated in this agitation.

The investigation has been handed over to the Crime Branch of the state police, but the BJP, including most of its ministers, want the investigation to be handed over to the CBI, which reports to New Delhi. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is also the state’s home minister, has refused this demand.

This issue has not only strained the coalition, it has also assumed a dangerously communal colour. Narratives about the crime have gotten mixed up with fear-filled talk about a demographic shift in the area.

The girl, who hailed from the Bakerwal community, belonged to one of the very few Muslim hamlets in Kathua district. Many narratives about the rape refer to fears about a recent increase in Muslim settlements in the predominantly Hindu-inhabited area.

It has become intertwined with local unease about Rohingya refugees in the Jammu area. What remains unsaid, but also plays on many minds, is the fact that large number of Kashmiris from the Valley have built second homes in Jammu, and stay there during the winter.

A Losing Battle

If the BJP thinks this sort of communal issue will help it regain lost ground in the Hindu-dominated stretch from Jammu to Kathua, it is playing with a very dangerous fire. That stretch runs close to the border with Pakistan, and Samba and Jammu have both been targets of major militant attacks.

This sort of communal (demographic) twist to such an abominable crime is unlikely to help the BJP regain lost political ground. Over the past year, people have become acutely aware of poor (or no) performance, huge corruption, callous unresponsiveness, and foolishness, on its part.

(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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