Mumbai: Paskal Dhanare, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Maharashtra’s tribal constituency of Dahanu, has been touring his region over the past few weeks, handing out booklets on benefits of the Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir.
Ahead of the Maharashtra assembly elections scheduled on 21 October, the BJP is back to its tried and tested formula of playing the nationalism card, besides highlighting the Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s performance.
The party had reaped the rewards in the Lok Sabha elections when it based its campaign on the Balakot strike. It is now looking to replicate it in the assembly elections by making the recent scrapping of Article 370 the focal point of its electioneering.
As such, MLAs such as Dhanare have been given the task of taking the message to voters. Although he is using an issue that concerns a state more than 2,000 km away for an assembly election in Maharashtra, Dhanare tries to make it relevant for his voters by giving an example closer to home.
“My constituency is at the Maharashtra-Gujarat border,” Dhanare told ThePrint. “We have had a roti-beti karbaar (movement of people for work and marriage) between the two states for years.
“Now imagine if one of us goes to Gujarat and they find that their career is over; that they can’t have any property there or any other rights there. That’s what Article 370 did in Jammu & Kashmir, we tell people, and they feel very strongly about it,” he said, adding even villagers in remote tribal hamlets identify with the issue.
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BJP’s campaign on Article 370
The BJP has distributed booklets and leaflets on Article 370, its history, and the benefits of scrapping it, in all its district offices in the state. The party high command has also specifically instructed legislators to hold programmes and take the message on Article 370 to the people, party leaders said.
“I have held six programmes on Article 370 — one for every councillor ward in my constituency and a seventh for the entire assembly constituency,” Manisha Chaudhary, a BJP MLA from Mumbai’s Dahisar constituency said. “We invited constitutional experts and retired military servicemen to speak on the subject. Besides, we have also been holding street plays at various public places on the subject,” she added.
“Even if this is a state election, the scrapping of Article 370 will have an impact on how people vote,” Chaudhary said. “Voters in my constituency have told me about how they feel bad when they go to Kashmir as tourists and the locals there ask, ‘Aap India se aaye ho?’ (Have you come from India?) Even for a slum dweller in Mumbai, Kashmir and Article 370 is an issue. They set politics aside when it comes to this.”
The Mumbai BJP leadership has planned nearly 300 street plays on Article 370 throughout the city, party leaders said.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis too liberally highlighted the Modi government’s move to do away with Article 370 during his campaign rallies as part of the recently-concluded ‘Mahajanadesh yatra.’
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BJP’s attempt to make Article 370 relevant to Maharashtra
Both PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in their recent campaign rallies in Maharashtra used Article 370 to fire salvos at state opposition leaders.
At the concluding rally of Fadnavis’ ‘Mahajanadesh yatra’ in Nashik last week, Modi said, “It is understandable that the Congress is confused, but when a leader as experienced as Sharad Pawar makes false claims just for votes, it hurts. He says he likes Pakistan but every Indian, as well as the entire world, knows who promotes terrorism.”
He added that the government wants to build a new, violence-free Kashmir.
On Sunday, Home Minister Shah too targeted the state Congress and Nationalist Congress Party chief over Article 370.
“Congresswalo sun lo, Sharad Rao kaan khol kar sun lo, Kashmir mein ashanti nahi hui hain (Congress leaders and Sharad Rao open your ears and listen, there is no unrest in Kashmir),” said Shah, who was in the city to address BJP karyakartas on the scrapping of Article 370.
Shah said that unlike the Congress, Article 370 was not a political issue for the BJP. He, however, began his speech by expressing pleasure that his poll campaign in Maharashtra kicked off with a lecture on Article 370. He also attempted to draw parallels between Mumbai and Maharashtra on one side and the situation in Jammu & Kashmir on the other side.
“This is Mumbai. Don’t people from all over the country stay here? Don’t North Indians stay here? Don’t Gujaratis stay here? Don’t Rajasthanis stay here? Don’t Oriya and South Indians stay here? Don’t Bengalis stay here?” Shah asked. “Even people from Maharashtra can stay anywhere in the country. But because of 370 and 35(A), no one from the rest of the country could go live in Kashmir, buy property there.”
He also spoke of how Maharashtra too has a distinct language, culture and a rich history where Chhatrapati Shivaji is revered across the country, but never needed an Article 370 to preserve all of this, unlike Kashmir.
Experts, however, say the effect of Article 370 may be on the wane in Maharashtra.
Political commentator Pratap Asbe said the impact of the decision on scrapping Article 370 had been fading in Maharashtra.
“After initial talk, the focus had shifted to issues such as floods in western Maharashtra, the ongoing drought in Marathwada, and there is also some disillusionment among voters about the BJP inducting opposition leaders by the droves,” Asbe said. “All these programmes and public outreach on Article 370 by party leaders and the cadre is to bring the decision back into focus.
“While it is unlikely that the move to bring a national issue like Article 370 into focus over local issues in a state election might backfire, its actual benefit remains to be seen,” he added. “We will have to wait and watch which of these issues come to the fore and how when people go out to vote.”
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