BJP grappling with identity crisis across Kashmir Valley

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign in the Valley has yet again brought to the fore the identity crisis it faces in the Muslim-dominated region.

Like before, BJP leaders, during their election campaign in the Valley, avoided raking up the abrogation of Article 370, which has been used as a poll plank by the party in rallies outside Kashmir.

The party’s local candidates also put up a ‘Muslim face’ during campaigning.

Even as the BJP poll din was somewhat visible in south Kashmir, the campaigning was low key in north Kashmir, where the rallies of the party’s Baramulla Lok Sabha candidate Maqbool War struggled to attract crowds.

BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav’s rally at Dak Bungalow in Anantnag in south Kashmir attracted only around 300 persons and the party’s Srinagar candidate Khalid Jehangir gave the public rallies a miss. In party rallies, several BJP workers were found hiding their faces when they realised they were being photographed.

On the ground in Baramulla, War was found talking about BJP’s ‘achievements’ in Kashmir but was also heard saying that Article 370 could not be abrogated in a clear effort to appeal to the local sentiment at a time when other parties were vowing to safeguard the constitutional provision in their rallies.

In Anantnag, even Madhav said that a decision on Article 370 would go through a parliamentary process and that the present elections were for development.

“We have a clear-cut policy on Article 370 but it will have to go through a due process in Parliament. For now, we are working on vikas (development),” he had said when asked about party president Amit Shah’s rhetoric over the article.

In the Srinagar seat, the BJP avoided rallying but Jehangir’s advertisements in local dailies in green colour caught everyone’s attention. The BJP’s Srinagar candidate was also seen in social media videos visiting a Sufi shrine and also eating ‘rista’ (meatball) on the roadside to strike a chord with Muslim voters. Though rista is sold as mutton, it is no secret that the roadside vendors mix beef in the delicacy.

Jehangir’s only ‘public’ function was when Ram Madhav interacted with a group of youth at a high-end hotel in Srinagar, inviting a poll code violation notice. He had also interacted with Kashmir Pandits in New Delhi to seek the votes of the migrants.

The BJP nevertheless maintained that it had enrolled 4.5 lakh members and was growing in the Valley.

“We have 4.5 lakh members in Kashmir. We got over 100 seats in the municipal elections (amid a boycott by the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party). The parties like the NC and the PDP have created an impression that the BJP is anti-Muslim, but the BJP does not believe in religious discrimination and our campaign mainly revolved around development. We will continue our efforts to win hearts in Kashmir,” said Altaf Thakur, BJP state spokesman.