Sunday, June 23, 2024

After 370? BJP unsure of next steps it needs to take in J&K

On June 23, 2013, Narendra Modi visited Madhopur in Punjab to visit the place where Shyama Prasad Mukherjee had treaded in 1953, on May 11 that year, six decades ago. On June 23, 2023, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is coming to Jammu, seven decades after Mukherjee had tried to enter Jammu and Kashmir. Between these two visits, of Modi and Shah, there is a gap of exactly a decade.

On that day, in 2013, the BJP was a party on the ascendant, with optimistic workers and supporters eagerly looking forward to the 2014 General Elections. All across the country, and even abroad, the US included where Modi is touring today as PM of India. In 2013, Modi attended a “Sankalp Rally’’ at Madhopur and by doing so he was sending a strong message. 

A message of strong ideological commitment against Article 370 which had claimed the life of Mukherjee. Modi was trying to convey, both to his supporters and the BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS, that he was firmly rooted. Firmly committed to uprooting Article 370 some day if only he was made the numero uno in BJP for the electoral contest! To be anointed the PM face and campaign mascot of the BJP.

Modi was in Madhopur as CM of Gujarat jockeying for top slot in the BJP, carefully orchestrating all his moves. Despite exuding confidence that day, Modi could be sure of being given the top ranking in the party only in September 2013, almost three months later. On September 13, to be exact, when then BJP chief Rajnath Singh declared at a press conference that Modi will lead the party in 2014 polls. Earlier, there was speculation that Arun Jaitley, or Sushma Swaraj were also in the race for top slot.

On that day in 2013, Dr Jitendra Singh was still teaching at Government Medical College, Jammu, and heard Modi make the speech from the podium sitting in the front row. On the stage were veterans like late Prakash Singh Badal, the patriarch of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a partner party no longer with the BJP now. Today, Dr Singh is mostly sitting behind the PM Modi, close to him, in the Lok Sabha, or is seen walking a step or two behind the all powerful PM. 

On June 23, 2013, Swaran Singh Salaria had a better ranking and was invested more in the BJP than Dr Singh. Former CM of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar too was on the stage that day, along with J P Nadda. Dapper Vinod Khanna, who had long worked with the BJP, was there too, to add star quotient. 

On Thursday, on touring some areas of the Jammu city, BJP flags were ubiquitous at most chowks and fluttered lazily. But the upbeat mood in the BJP doesn’t seem visible anywhere. The mobilisation of cadre, and supporters, is a command performance and lacks spontaneity of yesteryears, a decade ago when an eagerness was visible. With stars in their eyes and optimistic, the BJP workers talked of their turn to win! Any and all of them said that they will win hands down, both in the Lok Sabha elections and the Legislative Assembly elections.

In May 2014, the BJP won both the Lok Sabha seats in the Jammu region and won 25 seats in the Legislative Assembly too some months later. The party had gone into the 2014 riding on slogans of Mission 44, claiming that it will win 44/87 seats in the assembly, courtesy Amit Shah’s magic, riding on Modi magic. In June 2024, there is not one party worker or supporter which one meets in private who claims with a hand on his heart that Shah can do an encore of 2014 assembly show! Never mind a fresh delimitation, never even mind that the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly has gone up to 90, from 87 earlier.

That is why there are no elections in Jammu & Kashmir, no talk of a possible date or dates even in party circles. Incidentally, Shah is still known as Pradhanji, among many in the BJP circles, despite having ceded that post to Nadda years earlier. For those who know Shah’s tea drinking habits, they say that he likes his tea boiled hard and sugary (kadak chay). In the party office, at Delhi on Deendayal Upadhyay Marg, those who want their tea strong, allude to “Pradhaji wali chay dena’’.

Modi being referred to as “Chaiwala’’ once has taken the BJP twice past the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha elections, so far. After losses in Himachal, and more recent Karnataka assembly elections, the party is a bit shaky, and trying hard to gear up for the days ahead. In Jammu and Kashmir, the workers and supporters of the BJP do not give “kadak’’ (crisp and strong) answers as they are asked questions about when will the elections be held in J&K. They are not even willing to hazard a guess whether these elections will be held with the Lok Sabha elections next year, or even later.

That perhaps tells the true story of the BJP in Jammu & Kashmir today. 

(Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000. He edits epaper.earthnews.in, a newspaper from Jammu presently.)

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