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BJP to replicate LS poll strategy in J&K, set to launch Mission 44

LiveMint logoLiveMint 15-06-2014 Gyan Varma

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plans to take a leaf out of its general election strategies—including forging partnerships of the kind that helped to transcend deep-rooted caste politics in Uttar Pradesh—for the assembly election later this year in Jammu and Kashmir, a key state in the party’s future political map.

Realizing that gaining power in India’s only Muslim-majority state will be crucial for the ruling BJP to reinforce its footprint as a national party, its leadership is set to launch what it calls Mission 44: a bid to reach the half-way mark in the 87-member state assembly.

In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party had launched Mission 272 to reach the halfway mark in the 543-seat House. It ended up winning 282 seats.

At present, the BJP has 11 legislators in the assembly.

It is also planning to announce, for the first time, a chief ministerial candidate, just as Narendra Modi was declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate months before the General Election.

The state unit of the BJP is trying to get Modi to visit Jammu and Kashmir and inaugurate Mission 44 on 23 June, the 61st death anniversary of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, precursor of the BJP, and a party icon.

The BJP is keen to fight the election around the controversial Article 370, the constitutional provision giving Jammu and Kashmir a special status within the India, according to a person familiar with the party’s plans.

“A debate on Article 370 can be used by the BJP leaders to highlight the problems that the state and its people are facing,” the party leader said, requesting anonymity. “We can argue how this special status has blocked investments and major schemes in the state, which led to joblessness.”

The party is also contemplating entering into an electoral alliance with the Jammu Kashmir National Panther’s Party and some other smaller groups to strengthen its base in the state.

BJP leaders say the Panthers Party, which has three legislators in the assembly, may help the BJP’s prospects, at least in the Jammu region—just as its alliance with a small party called Apna Dal, which has a strong support base among other backward classes (OBCs) in eastern Uttar Pradesh had helped it reach out to backward communities in the General Election.

The Panthers Party had 3.78% vote share in the last assembly election, while the BJP took 15.22%.

“There are 37 assembly seats in the Jammu region and we want to maximise our gains in this region. We plan to win at least 32-33 seats in this region itself. The other four seats BJP is targeting are Leh, Nobra, Zanskar and Kargil,” said R.P. Singh, in-charge of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir at the party headquarters. “This time the BJP will not be a fringe player with limited seats, but will play a major role in government formation. The BJP will also have its own chief ministerial candidate in the election.”

The party will start selecting candidates by mid-July and the process will be completed by the first week of September. The party, which has hired an independent survey agency to prepare a report on the candidates and the major election issues, is also considering opening talks with a few independent legislators.

The party’s plan is to get top BJP leaders, including ministers, to tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the BJP-led government at the Centre will get more investment into the state. At the same time, the electorate will be assured that there will be no changes to basic laws—meaning Article 370—and that the government will secure the land rights of those who are domiciled in the state that borders Pakistan.

“Union cabinet ministers will visit all constituencies. Senior ministers from Punjab and Rajasthan (two other states bordering Pakistan) also will campaign intensely ahead of the elections,” Singh said.

In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won Jammu, Ladakh and Udhampur seats, which comprise 41 assembly segments.

Political analysts following the developments in the state say the BJP can improve its tally in the state elections if it is able to maintain the euphoria in favour of the party. But they predict that the ruling party will not be in a position to form a government in the state.

Some experts also point out that while the BJP looks set to launch an aggressive debate on Article 370 to polarise voters, the debate can become counter-productive for the party since it is a sensitive issue.

“Parliamentary elections and state assembly elections are very different. There can be different results in Lok Sabha elections and completely opposite results in assembly elections because of the size of the constituencies,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, Srinagar-based political analyst and professor of political science at Srinagar University. “If the BJP is able to maintain the euphoria, they will be able to improve its present tally and make some inroads but it will not be in a position to form a government or to reach the halfway mark.”

Baba said the BJP’s plans to join hands with the Panthers Party may not work because the regional party has only limited influence.

“Panthers Party will continue to win only three-four seats, so it will not help the BJP in a big way,” he said.

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