Lok Sabha elections: No candidate in fray, yet BJP dominates campaign narrative in Kashmir

Story by  Aasha Khosa | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 09-05-2024
Omar Abdullah and Sajjad Ghani Lone
Omar Abdullah and Sajjad Ghani Lone


Aasha Khosa

The Bhartiya Janata Party’s absence from the election scene in Kashmir where it has not fielded candidates on the three Lok Sabha seats is not being missed as the campaigning by main contestants is dominated by reference to the saffron party.

More than calming the key contestants, its absence from the election scene has left some of them paranoid as they accuse each other of being proxies for the Saffron party.

The sharpest exchange was witnessed between Omar Abdullah, a National Conference contestant from the Baramulla constituency, and his key rival Sajjad Lone of the Peoples’ Conference. Abdullah accused Lone of being the “B-team of BJP” while the latter hit back and labeled the NC leader as a “tourist and convenient ally of BJP.”

Perhaps for the first time, Omar is on a sticky wicket as he has shifted his constituency from Srinagar and faces a well-entrenched rival in Sajjad Lone. 

Lone is a native as his father Abdul Gani Lone belonged to Handwara town and had founded his party the Peoples Conference. Both father and son won several consecutive terms in the State Legislative Assembly from their stronghold.

Sajjad has many interesting facets to his life. He is married to the daughter of Amanullah Khan, a one-time JKLF chief and a fugitive of Indian law who lived and passed away in Pakistan after fleeing from the UK. Lone's wife Asma Khan Lone teaches at a private university in Delhi NCR.

Sajjad Lone is a youth icon who has nursed his constituency and never made any bones about his association with the BJP since Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time. Lone won his Assembly election from Handwara in 2014 as also a minister in Mufti Mohammad Syed-led coalition government with the BJP. He was allocated this position ‘in the BJP quota.’

Sajjad Lone addressing a rally in Kupwara

Lone shot back at Omar, “Once there was a Good Taliban and a bad Taliban. Now Omar has given the theory of Good BJP and bad BJP. When he associates with BJP it’s a good BJP and when others do it’s a bad BJP.”

He said the National Conference is in the habit of labeling others as “teams of BJP’ while the reality is that the party has always sided with the ruling party in Delhi.

Apni Party leader Altaf Bukhari has openly said he is with BJP and PM Narendra Modi and has likewise rejected allegations of being the “B team of the saffron party.” 

Omar Abdullah has even targeted Mehbooba Mufti for "aiding the BJP against secular parties" by fielding her party PDP’s candidates against the National Conference. Now this is a bit hilarious given the fact that there is no BJP candidate in the fray from the Kashmir valley.

Sources in the BJP said the party did not field candidates for lack of preparation. It rather kept its focus on winning the two parliamentary seats - the Udhampur and Jammu.

BJP seems contented with the optics of hordes of young people holding BJP's flag and speaking well of PM Modi's policies on Kashmir. It's in no hurry to build the party or show its presence in Kashmir.

Rally of National Conference in Kupwara

Besides, the BJP is content with the expected high turnout in the elections and optics of a participatory election sans the threats or the boycott calls from terrorists and separatists as the success of its Kashmir and Pakistan policies.

However, NC being the oldest and the cadre-based party has an inherent advantage in all the three constituencies of Kashmir. Yet for the first time, the party is working hard and not taking any chances in the Lok Sabha election, which otherwise was a dull and lackluster affair in J&K.

Realizing the conferring of SC status on Paharis by the BJP government has eaten away a big chunk of the traditional support the party enjoyed, NC leaders are leaving no stone unturned to woo the community. Paharis are hill people who speak a dialect close to Kumanoni and Gharwali and Baramulla constituency has a good population of the tribe.

 Sadly, the NC is singularly focused on attacking the BJP and on its pledge to restore Article 370 of the Constitution which once gave a special status to J&K State and was one of the psychological reasons for the state not fully integrating with mainland India.

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Interestingly, the NC leaders often take to Kashmir and lower the volume of their speech while seeking to instill fear of losing land and resources after the abrogation of special status. NC makes no big promises on development.