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Business News/ Politics / News/  Phase 4 voting today: In first Lok Sabha election post Article 370 scrapping, BJP not in the fray in 3 Kashmir seats
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Phase 4 voting today: In first Lok Sabha election post Article 370 scrapping, BJP not in the fray in 3 Kashmir seats

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: This is first time since 1996 that the BJP has not fielded candidates in the 3 parliamentary seats of Kashmir, allowing the regional satraps NC and the PDP to compete.

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Voting underway in Pulwama area of Srinagar seat in Phase 4 today. (Waseem Andrabi/HT)Premium
Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Voting underway in Pulwama area of Srinagar seat in Phase 4 today. (Waseem Andrabi/HT)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not fielded any candidate in three Lok Sabha seats of Kashmir for the first time in about three decades. 

 Srinagar, one of the three seats of Kashmir, is voting in the fourth phase today. The other two seats – Baramulla in the north and Anantnag-Rajouri in the south – will vote on May 20 and May 25, respectively.

The Lok Sabha Elections 2024 are the first general elections in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution in August 2019 by the BJP-ruled centre that stripped its special status. The government also downgraded the erstwhile state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Also Read: Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah dares BJP: 'I'll quit politics if...'

There are five Lok Sabha seats in J&K – two in Jammu and three in Kashmir. The two seats of the Jammu division – Udhampur and Jammu – that voted in the first two phases had prominent BJP candidates in the fray. Union Minister Jitendra Singh contested from his seat in Udhampur while Member of Parliament Jugal Kishore Sharma sought re-election from the Jammu seat.

NC, PDP & BJP ‘proxies’

In the absence of the BJP candidates, the two regional parties of Kashmir – the J&K National Conference and the J&K People's Democratic Party (PDP) are pitted against each other in the three seats of Muslim-majority Kashmir.

There are other parties too – former separatist leader Sajad Lone’s J&K People’s Conference (PC), Altaf Bukhari’s J&K Apni Party and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP). But the NC and the PDP have called these parties ‘proxies’ fielded by the BJP.

In first Lok Sabha election post Article 370 stripping,  BJP not in the fray in 3  seats. Explained in 5 points
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In first Lok Sabha election post Article 370 stripping, BJP not in the fray in 3 seats. Explained in 5 points

 

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah, for example, is contesting from Baramulla seat where he is up against PDP’s Fayaz Mir and Sajad Lone, the PC chief. Abdullah has openly called Lone a BJP ‘proxy,’ a charge that the PC chief has denied.

Also Read: Lok Sabha elections 2024: Is this the end of INDIA bloc in Kashmir? PDP & NC to contest against each other in the valley

Similarly, in Anantnag-Rajouri seat, where former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is up against NC’s Mian Altaf, the Apni Party’s Zaffar Iqbal Manhas is being seen as a proxy fielded by the the BJP.

In Srinagar, NC leader Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi and PDP’s Waheed Parra are contesting against Apni Party’s Mohammad Ashraf Mir.

The Apni Party, formed in 2021 reportedly with the BJP’s ‘support’, and People’s Conference, often seen close to the Centre, are supporting each other in the contest. 

Both NC and PDP are INDIA bloc partners but have decided to contest elections to three Kashmir seats separately. The two parties supported Congress candidates in both the seats of Jammu, though. The BJP’s decision to skip the electoral battle in Kashmir came after the NC and the PDP decided to contest separately.

‘No rush for lotus to bloom in the Valley’

Some reports suggest that the BJP has decided to stay away from direct contest in Kashmir because it wants the two regional parties – the NC and PDP – to contest against each other and thus prepare ground for Assembly Elections scheduled to be held later this year. J&K has been administered by Lieutenant Governor (L-G), Centre’s appointee, since 2018.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a rally in Srinagar in March. The public meeting was his first in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, indicating BJP's preparations in Kashmir.

But over the following weeks, it became amply clear that BJP will not field candidates. It was the Union Home Minister Amit Shah who first indicated, during a rally in Jammu on April 16, that the saffron party might not contest in Kashmir. He said that the party was ‘not in a hurry’ to see the lotus bloom in the Valley. 

“We are not going to ‘conquer’ Kashmir as projected by our adversaries. We want to win every heart in Kashmir," he said in the rally. Shah urged voters not to back the NC, the PDP or Congress candidates in the contest.

BJP’s J&K chief Ravinder Raina had called the party's decision to skip the election was part of a broader strategy. “Sometimes decisions are made to achieve a big goal. The BJP would support 'patriotic' parties in the Valley," Raina said in a press conference in Jammu in April.

Abdullah, in an interview with Hindustan Times, called BJP’s decision ‘surprising’ since the BJP had fielded candidates before. “I can understand if they had not contested in the Valley before. But, they contested all three seats in 2019. Then, why not in 2024?" he asked.

‘Anti-Muslim stand’

In 2019 general elections, the BJP contested all the seats in Jammu and Kashmir – winning two seats of Jammu and one of Ladakh, but all its candidates lost deposits in the three Kashmir seats.

Also Read: Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Why should they fear PM Modi? Abdul Salam, BJP's only Muslim candidate

The reason is much deeper than what it looks, the former chief minister said. One part, he said, is the absence of any support for them on the ground here." It is also the fact that putting up Muslim candidates here will make their anti-Muslim stance in the rest of the country a little difficult to sell. And, you cannot put non-Muslim candidates in the overwhelmingly Muslim majority seats in Kashmir," Abdullah said in the interview.

‘BJP behind the scenes’

The NC won all three seats in the Kashmir division in the 2019 elections. “The BJP can seek votes on the abrogation of Article 370 elsewhere in the country. But drumming up support on the issue in Kashmir is very difficult," said a local trader in downtown Srinagar, who does not want to be named.

Abdullah alleged that the BJP is contesting the election in Kashmir from behind the scenes. “I am categorical in my assertion that the BJP may not have a symbol in this election, but make no mistake they are very much part of the election process just from behind the scenes. They are propping up their proxies wherever they can. Otherwise, where was the need for the BJP’s J&K president to come to north Kashmir and tell his workers that “we will let you know in a few days as to whom to support," he told Hindustan Times.

Anantnag-Rajouri seat

While Srinagar and Baramulla are Muslim-dominated seats, many had expected BJP to make some inroads in Anantnag-Rajouri seat after the addition of areas from Poonch and Rajouri regions of Jammu in the seat, formerly known as Anantnag.

In fact, it was the BJP, PC, Apni Party and Democratic Progressive Azad Party that approached Election Commission seeking deferment of polls in the seat from May 7 to May 25. The NC and PDP had questioned the demand seeking deferment of polls

Also Read: BJP used Article 370 as political football, or why would PM Modi promote a movie on the topic: Omar Abdullah

In the run-up to Lok Sabha polls, the BJP cleared the demand for reservation for the Pahari community, too. The community has substantial numbers in Anantnag-Rajouri. However, sources said that an internal assessment by the BJP revealed that the party won’t get much support in the elections this time, and hence the move to stay out of the fray.

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Published: 10 May 2024, 09:29 AM IST
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