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‘Jammu, Dogras neglected’ — Omar Abdullah ex-adviser & NC’s Jammu face Devender Rana joins BJP

Rana, a three-term MLA, was seen as the NC’s face in Jammu region. Despite the BJP’s sweep in the Jammu region in the 2014 assembly elections, he won from Nagrota.

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New Delhi: Devender Singh Rana, the Jammu president of the National Conference (NC), joined the BJP Monday. Rana, who has earlier served as political adviser of NC leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah, is also the younger brother of Union minister Jitendra Singh.

Rana, a three-term MLA, was seen as the NC’s face in Jammu region. Despite the BJP’s sweep in the Jammu region in the 2014 assembly elections, he won from Nagrota. He played an important role in bolstering the secular credentials of the NC, based in Muslim-majority Kashmir, in Hindu-majority Jammu. 

Rana joined the BJP in the presence of Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan, Jitendra Singh, and Hardeep Singh Puri, and BJP in-charge Tarun Chugh. 

“I launched the Jammu Declaration to strengthen the Jammu narrative in the Jammu & Kashmir region, as Jammu has been neglected, the Dogras have been neglected… At the time, the most forthcoming party was the BJP. In national interest, to strengthen the Jammu narrative, I joined the BJP,” he added.

The Jammu Declaration, proposed by Rana in January, called for all political parties of the region to unite for more development in the region. This was seen as a counter to the Gupkar Alliance, the Kashmir-based coalition that took shape with the stated aim of restoring Article 370 and statehood. 

“I will work for the Jammu Declaration for inclusive development of Jammu & Kashmir. We have asked all parties to be part of this declaration but a few parties want to play politics, not strengthen the region,” he said.

The departure of Rana is likely to hurt the NC in Jammu. Along with him, former NC MLA Surjit Singh Slathia also joined the BJP Monday.

Also Read: How Altaf Bukhari, ‘BJP’s B-Team’ in J&K, is surviving without selling dreams about Article 370

Car & media entrepreneur 

Devender Rana is an engineering graduate and entrepreneur. In 2008, he wrested the Nagrota constituency, which was held by the BJP earlier, and served as adviser to the chief minister for six years (2008-2014). He was made the NC’s provincial president of the Jammu region in 2011. 

A Dogra, he is known to enjoy the support of Jammu’s Gujjar Muslim communities. 

He owns many dealerships of the automobile giant Maruti in not only Jammu but also other parts of India, including Punjab. He also owns the local channel Take One in Jammu.

A National Conference leader said one of the points of conflict between Rana and the party was his desire to place more emphasis on Jammu.

“At a Gupkar Alliance meeting, he asked Farooq Abdullah to not compromise national security and integrity by giving too much voice to the PDP (a Gupkar ally). Abdullah convinced Rana that the Gupkar Alliance is not anti-national and we are working for the cause of Jammu & Kashmir. This was his (Rana’s) last meeting with Gupkar leaders last year,” the leader added.

J&K BJP vice-president Pawan Khajuria said Rana’s induction will hurt the NC in the union territory. 

“He is a Dogra but he has a good rapport with the Gujjar Muslim and Bakerwal communities, as his seat in Nagrota comprises Hindus and Gujjars in substantial number,” he added. 

“His joining will dent the National Conference in Jammu and it will send a message among the Gujjars also. So, this way, we will increase our footprint in three to four constituencies. He has a good network from Kathua to Kupwara region.”

Another senior BJP leader said the first message “we want to send before the assembly election is that the BJP is a force that is coming to power, as leaders from the NC are also leaving the party to join the BJP”.

“Secondly, after delimitation, nine reserved seats will come out for the ST community, four in Jammu region. After reservation in DDC (district development council) polls, we have already made inroads in the Gujjar community,” the leader added. 

“The NC hold on his vote bank will weaken after his induction and we can make more inroads in that community, which is influential in more than 15 seats in the Jammu & Kashmir region.”

In the 2020 DDC polls, the NC gained in the Muslim areas of Jammu, like in Ramban, Kishwar, and Rajouri, but the BJP held its fort in the Hindu-dominated ones, winning top posts in Jammu, Kathua, Udhampur, Dona, Samba and Reasi. In Jammu, the BJP won 75 of 280 DDC seats, including three in Kashmir, while the Gupkar Alliance got 110.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Why assembly elections are likely to be held in J&K next year


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