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BJP deploying battery of senior leaders, ministers in J&K district council poll campaign

Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and BJP national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain have already visited J&K ahead of the November-December polls.

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New Delhi/Srinagar: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is deploying a battery of Union ministers and senior leaders to campaign for it in the upcoming District Development Council (DDC), urban local body and panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

The DDC polls are being held to elect 280 members in 20 districts, and are scheduled for November and December, along with by-elections for ULB and panchayat seats, which had remained vacant owing to a boycott by the main regional parties in the 2018 polls.

The BJP’s campaign trend has already begun, with Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi addressing an election meeting in Kupwara on 19 November, and national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain, who visited Srinagar Friday. Other leaders expected to join the campaign are Union ministers Jitendra Singh (the MP for Udhampur in J&K), Smriti Irani, Krishan Pal Gujjar, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ and Anurag Thakur, and Rajya Sabha MP Zafar Islam.

The BJP has also decided to reach out to certain communities. Ramesh Bidhuri, the MP for South Delhi and a prominent ‘Gujjar’ community leader, has been stationed in Jammu for the past four days, campaigning and seeking support from the Bakarwal community.

The nomadic Bakarwals are upset over a recent demolition drive conducted by the J&K administration, which targeted their temporary dwelling places, as well as those of the Gujjars, in the Pahalgam area of the Kashmir Valley’s Anantnag district. Authorities had claimed that they were illegally occupying forest land.

Former CM Mehbooba Mufti had said the Narendra Modi government was pushing the Gujjars and Bakarwals to the wall, but speaking to ThePrint, Bidhuri responded: “This was nothing but a nautanki (drama) by Mehbooba Mufti, who wanted to use this opportunity to create a false narrative.”

Bidhuri, who is also set to visit Srinagar, added: “This drive (to target Gujjar-Bakarwal dwellings) is illegal and no one will be removed from their houses. Rather, the government has already created a law for it, and they will get pucca houses where they are located currently. Also, this issue has come up only in some districts of Srinagar, and not Jammu.”

On the DDC elections, Bidhuri said: “We are quite confident. I have been here for the past four days and have visited a number of panchayats, and they are happy with the work of the Modi government.

“Before the scrapping of Article 370, the poor and backward communities had been deprived of benefits of reservation. Gujjar-Bakarwals had been deprived of reservation. Our government has ensured all rights to the needy people by scrapping Article 370, and no ‘alliance’ will be allowed to snatch these rights from the people.”

Also read: J&K begins to move DDC poll candidates to secure locations amid militant threats

‘Road shows, digital rallies, social media campaigns’

The DDC polls assume significance as this is the first electoral exercise in J&K since Article 370 was scrapped on 5 August 2019, and the former state was divided into two union territories.

The BJP seems to have two policies, one for Jammu and another for Kashmir. While in Jammu, the “anti-national” and “anti-people” rhetoric it has already begun employing against the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), a conglomerate of national and regional parties that includes the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). National parties such as CPI(M( and CPI are also a part of PAGD.

In Kashmir, meanwhile, the BJP plans to touch upon the various ‘people-friendly’ policies of the Modi government.

The BJP has planned road shows, digital rallies, and door-to-door as well as social media campaigns, said Manzoor Bhat, its media-in charge in Kashmir. Around 900 people have been employed in 20 IT teams, one in each district, to monitor the party’s social media content.

J&K BJP chief Ravinder Raina will also address people of the region in digital rallies through social media.

“Besides making people aware of the corruption committed by the dynastic parties here, the BJP will also clear the propaganda spread by the PAGD about land laws. We will assure people that their land won’t be taken away,” Bhat told ThePrint.

“If someone wants to invest, we can’t stop that. It is good for Kashmir. We will also talk about providing employment opportunities and the Modi government’s commitment to strengthen grassroots level democracy and accountability,” he said.

Jammu-based Jaidev Rajwal, the head of BJP’s IT and social media in J&K, said more than “9,000 WhatsApp groups” that were formed over the past few years will be used to disseminate the party’s messages.

Rajwal also claimed this election was being fought between nationalists and anti-nationals.

“Syed Ali Shah Geelani is better than the PAGD. At least he says that he wants Pakistan. These people talk about China intervening in Kashmir. The Gupkar gang are just deceiving people and we will expose them brutally this time. We will sweep Jammu and perform very well in Kashmir,” Rajwal said.

Also read: How rising Centre-state friction is chipping away at Modi’s ‘cooperative federalism’ mantra

‘Gupkar alliance a futile exercise’

The BJP has also begun focussing on booth-level work and highlighting its management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People are telling us that they got ration, women got Rs 500, which helped them during this pandemic. Just like Bihar, even here PM Modi is loved by the people and we are confident of doing well,” said another BJP leader, who did not want to be named.

BJP’s co-in charge of J&K, Ashish Sood, said the Gupkar alliance was a “futile exercise”.

“The Gupkar gang are not doing anything apart from trying to mislead the people and by creating fear and confusion among them. But people are not going to fall for it. The Gupkar gang is only on Twitter and their official pages,” Sood said.

“The country is not going to accept those who try to seek China’s help to destabilise the nation. We are fighting these elections on the development plank and the work that has been done by the Modi government,” he said.

Senior BJP leader Vikram Randhawa added that PAGD constituents have, for years, “injected people of J&K with poison”.

“We want to heal the people here. We will point out that under the current government, no riots took place anywhere in the country. No stone-pelting happened in Kashmir. How peaceful J&K is now. All this is a result of the Modi government’s commitment to people of J&K.”

Also read: For BJP, J&K local body polls a fight between national flag and ‘Pakistan-China lovers’


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