Srinagar: Of the 75 seats that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed to win in the maiden District Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir, perhaps the most prized are the three it secured in the Valley.
While the BJP was expected to perform well in Jammu — where it won 72 seats, more than half of the total DDC seats in the region — in Kashmir, the three of its winners have provided an opening for the party that has never been able to cultivate its roots in the Valley.
These three leaders are Aijaz Hussain Rather, an engineer, Ajjaz Raja, a double postgraduate in English and political science, and Minha Lateef, a law student.
‘Convince people by good work’
On Wednesday, Aijaz Hussain Rather, who worked as an engineer before joining the party in 2006, won from one of the 14 constituencies in Srinagar. The 35-year-old national vice president of the BJP’s youth wing is also known as Engineer Aijaz.
Rather’s career trajectory as a politician and a BJP leader is, perhaps, the most organic among the three who won in Kashmir.
After completing high school from the Aligarh Muslim University, Rather moved to Chennai to study engineering. Son of a government employee, he had no ambitions of joining politics until then.
“But I made some friends outside who told me what the BJP stands for. When I came back to Kashmir, I literally had to look for BJP workers and leaders. I met some like-minded people here. We would meet in parking lots as there was no permanent office of the BJP,” he said.
Rather’s first designation in the party — district secretary of Yuva Morcha Srinagar — came in 2008.
“In 2012, I was made district secretary of BJP, then state vice president of BJP Yuva Morcha in 2013 and the national vice president in 2016. The same year I was made in-charge of West Bengal BJP youth,” Rather told ThePrint.
He is quite prominent not only in BJP circles in Jammu and Kashmir but also across India. Having worked with senior BJP leader Ram Madhav closely, Rather also served as understudy with several party leaders, including Avinash Rai Khanna and Kailash Vijayvargiya in West Bengal. He also worked under Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Now, he is expected to play a role in the state elections in West Bengal next year.
It’s likely that his activities in the last five years have got Rather important assignments to handle.
“On 26 January 2016, I unfurled the tricolour on top of the EDI building where our jawans were martyred in a militant attack. I organised a major signature campaign in Kashmir in favour of the prime minister’s demonetisation move. A massive conference was also organised by me on the benefits of Citizenship Amendment Act,” he said.
“After the abrogation of Article 370, I also organised the Tiranga rally in Lal Chowk. All these activities were not done to strengthen the party but out of love for my country,” said Rather.
He added that he stuck with the BJP despite hostilities and social boycott by his friends and relatives.
“But I know that they will get convinced about my choices one day and today I have been proven right. Aggression is not the solution for anything. My motto is to convince people by your good work,” Rather said, adding that the next big challenge for him and the BJP will be the assembly polls.
‘PDP had been in decline’
While Rather managed to score a victory in his first ever election, his colleague Ajjaz Raja, who won from Kashmir’s Gurez region, is not new to success. This is his third electoral triumph in a row.
He had won the sarpanch seat from his village in 2018 local body elections and was elected as Block Development Council chairperson by panchs and sarpanchs last year.
Raja, 35, holds double Masters in English and political science. He had been associated with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for almost four years. Early this year, however, Raja and his father Faqir Khan, an ex-MLA from the PDP, decided to join the BJP.
“…the PDP had been in decline before I left it. PDP also neglected my region and BJP was the natural choice for me and my father. My father is the prabhari of the J&K ST Wing,” he said, adding that besides development, he would like to see Gurez become a tourism hub.
Early success for law student
The third BJP leader to win in the Valley is 21-year-old Minha Lateef, who won a seat for herself in the Pulwama region of troubled south Kashmir.
Minha, like Raja, belongs to a political family. Her father Lateef Bhat is the vice president of Jammu and Kashmir BJP Minority Morcha.
Minha told ThePrint that she is a law student and became part of the BJP owing to her father’s party allegiance.
She added that she would not be able to share more details or even photographs of herself fearing reprisals. However, she expressed her desire to work for the development of the people of the region.
Her father, who was formerly with the Congress, told ThePrint that all of his family members are in the BJP. “The seat won by Minha is reserved for women and that is why I told her to fight the elections. I am happy to see her victorious,” said Lateef Bhat.