Can Amit Shah Deliver Kashmir For BJP?

22 August 2014
Rising Kashmir
Suhail Ahmad

Srinagar: Bharatiya Janata Party's elaborate plan to 'install' a Hindu chief minister in Jammu and Kashmir sounds like a follow-up operation of 2008 when the right-wing party reaped rich dividends by dividing the state on religious lines during the Amarnath land transfer agitation, pitting Hindu Jammu against Muslim Kashmir. Whipping up communal frenzy, BJP succeeded to win 11 of 37 seats of Jammu region in the following assembly polls. Come 2014 elections, the party is in a much stronger position with its own government at the Centre which improves its prospects in the state polls. It is in a good position to increase its tally in Jammu, especially after the success in Lok Sabha elections. However, to make electoral inroads in Kashmir valley, the party under its new president, Amit Shah has embarked on an ambitious and dangerous plan to capitalize on the Muslim boycott and secure Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) votes. Securing Pandit votes in some constituencies of the valley where the Muslim electorate is known to boycott the polls is certainly a workable scheme, especially with the BJP government at the Centre. But it would be too early to say whether the party can succeed to execute it. Even if Amit Shah does manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat, it certainly won't go down well with the people in the valley. They will feel cheated by a party which is even otherwise known for its anti-Muslim antics. Shah may have managed to script BJP's victory in Uttar Pradesh, but J&K is a different ball game all together. BJP's aggressive moves to dominate the state politics may end up reinforcing the feeling in Kashmir that Narendra Modi government is bent on undermining the Muslim identity of the valley. This can easily undo the recovery which UPA government had been able to make following the anti-India unrest in the valley in 2010. At the same time, it would be too naïve to speculate that the fear of BJP coming to power, even if as part of an alliance, may prompt Kashmiri Muslims to come out and vote just to keep the right-wing party at bay. Nevertheless, the threat cannot be ruled out completely. Till some time back, it would have seemed unthinkable that BJP can pose any challenge to National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and Congress. But given its sweeping success in Lok Sabha elections, the party has indeed emerged as a force to reckon with. Besides, it won't be surprising if Shah would be over-estimating his ability to deliver a miracle for BJP in Kashmir. After all, Prime Minister Modi recently declared him as 'man of the match' for his role in party's victory in Lok Sabha elections. Shah's 'Mission Kashmir' seems to be driven by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh agenda of furthering the cause of Hindutva. The BJP president has picked a team which has many RSS faces and they are likely to play important role as he prepares the party for crucial Assembly polls in states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and later Delhi. Besides, recently RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also said that India is a 'Hindu nation' and Hindutva is its identity. 'Hindustan is a Hindu nationHindutva is the identity of our nation and it (Hinduism) can incorporate others (religions) in itself,' he said. This clearly indicates the intentions of RSS and by association that of BJP. Barring Vajpayee's tenure as prime minister when several Confidence Building Measures were initiated by the BJP government, the party's jingoistic approach towards Kashmir has earned it little goodwill in the valley. It has treated Kashmiris as people who have gone astray and need to be brought back into the national mainstream while ignoring the political realities of the place. It's the same party that made attempts to hoist the tricolor atop the Clock Tower at Srinagar's Lal Chowk in 1992 and more recently in 2011. I am reminded of an article 'The fabric of belonging' written by noted journalist Siddharth Varadarajan which appeared in 'The Hindu' in 2011 after BJP's 'Ekta Yatra' was foiled by J&K government. Commenting on BJP's attitude towards Kashmir, Siddharth wrote: 'If a sense of national belonging can be instilled and solidified by the mere hoisting of a flag, 60 years of official ceremonies in Srinagar ought to have ended the sense of alienation that is writ large over the valley.' He added: 'Kashmir will be an integral part of India in a meaningful sense only when the residents of Srinagar throng to Lal Chowk and hoist the tri-colour themselves.' Once again, BJP seems to be treating Kashmir as an enemy territory which needs to be conquered by any means possible. Rather than working on the hearts of people in the valley, it's looking to work around them which can prove counterproductive to Amit Shah's plans.