Srinagar: Although political activity in Jammu and Kashmir came to a halt since the scrapping of Article 370 on 5 August last year, especially for mainstream parties of the Kashmir Valley, the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone from strength to strength.
Party leaders told ThePrint that in the last one year, the BJP has consolidated its organisational structure, especially in Kashmir, where it has never won a parliamentary or assembly seat, and managed to double its membership in the Valley to 2.5 lakh.
The BJP has a strong base in Jammu, reflected in its numerous victories in elections to the Lok Sabha as well as the assembly of the erstwhile state. In fact, its 25 seats in the last assembly polls in 2014 from the Jammu region put it in a position to form a coalition government with the Peoples Democratic Party, despite winning none of the 46 seats from the Kashmir Valley. In the 2002 and 2008 J&K assembly elections, the BJP had won one and 10 seats respectively.
But now, the BJP is confident that it can achieve its dream of forming a majority government in J&K, given the inroads it has made into the Valley and the delimitation exercise currently taking place which is redrawing the constituency maps.
Strengthening the base
Ashok Kaul, general secretary of the J&K BJP, said the party, besides holding internal elections to elect its president, has constituted district and constituency-level teams.
Since March, it has been busy raising awareness about the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August last year, and the new domicile law that gives equal rights to West Pakistan Refugees, Valmiki and Gorkha communities residing in J&K.
Kaul said BJP workers reached out to these communities to spread awareness about their newly acquired rights.
“Besides this we also constituted various morchas at the level of the union territory as well as the districts — serving the youth, minorities, farmers, women, SCs, STs and OBCs. These morchas existed pre-5 August too, but we have streamlined and strengthened them in the last year,” Kaul said.
The party plans to conduct flag raising ceremonies in all its district headquarters on 5 August.
Absence of opponents
Although BJP leaders maintained that the detention of top Kashmiri politicians from other parties did not aid them in the Valley, insiders said the absence of “negative forces” helped the BJP show “Kashmiris the possibilities of a better future”.
J&K BJP spokesperson and head of panchayat affairs Altaf Thakur said: “No political party can arrest another; it is the job of law enforcement bodies. We have never wanted other political parties to remain jailed. We want them to do political activity.”
A local BJP leader who requested anonymity said: “I won’t say that jailing politicians from the National Conference and PDP gave us a free hand to gain more members. Our cadres have worked hard and the efforts made by them in the last year are showing results. But yes, the absence of negative forces has helped the BJP to show Kashmiris the possibilities of a better future. Be it the Hurriyat Conference or any other political party, the forces misleading people for 70 years have not been able to do so in the last one year.”
The leader added that the BJP in Kashmir tapped into its established networks to keep itself updated about issues such as infrastructure development, health and general governance, which would be later taken up with the J&K administration.
Thakur said if there is any party that remained active after 5 August, it was the BJP. “As a result of this, we have managed to increase our membership in the Valley from 4.5 lakh to seven lakh. We have 14 municipal councils in the Valley and 63 block development chairpersons. We are now the biggest mainstream political party in J&K. Until 2019, in Kashmir, we did not have even one elected representative… Now, we have 1,266 panches and sarpanches.”
Thakur added that had the internet not been shut down, the BJP would have gained more members than it did. “We have focused in areas where we had less presence. In south Kashmir, we have gained at least 85,000 members,” he said.
BJP south Kashmir leader Sofi Yosuf also confirmed that the party’s membership in the entire Valley was now seven lakh
Social media and IT
For the better part of the last decade, the BJP has been at the forefront of using social media and information technology to increase its footprint. In J&K, the party now has over 4,000 members in its IT cell to propagate its achievements and action plans. The head of IT and social media is Jammu-based Jaidev Rajwal.
The structure is such that each district now has a social media in-charge who reports to Rajwal. Sixteen cell members report to each district in-charge. The BJP has also set up IT cells for its seven morchas, all of which report to Rajwal. According to another BJP leader, Rajwal is responsible for taking on social media profiles considered “anti-national”.
Speaking to ThePrint, Rajwal detailed: “We had around 4,000 WhatsApp groups till August last year. Now we have 7,000, where workers and supporters keep us updated about the ground situation. Besides WhatsApp, our department has increased the BJP’s footprint in Kashmir’s social media sphere — we have a strong presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
He added that Wasim Bari, the local BJP leader who was shot dead along with two of his family members in north Kashmir last month, was “instrumental in designing this model”. “Today, I can make any message from the party go viral in a matter of minutes,” he said.
Rajwal also said the BJP has organised 125 audio conferences and almost the same number of video conferences during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The social media teams, besides raising awareness about “benefits of abrogation of Article 370”, also highlight alleged corruption cases of opposition parties and counter “propaganda spread by Pakistan and its proxies”, according to Rajwal.
Pinka Malik, a 40-year-old IT cell member, added: “We have not rested for a day since the abrogation of Article 370.”