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For BJP, J&K local body polls a fight between national flag and ‘Pakistan-China lovers’

According to BJP general secretary Tarun Chugh, the local body polls in J&K will be fought between nationalist forces and forces who want disturbance in the UT.

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New Delhi: The BJP’s campaign in Jammu and Kashmir, where the crucial district development council polls to elect 280 members in 20 districts are to be held between 28 November and 19 December, will revolve around the Tricolour.

Newly-appointed BJP general secretary Tarun Chugh, who has been given charge of Jammu and Kashmir in place of Ram Madhav, told ThePrint that the party-backed candidates will campaign on the lines of ‘Kaun Tiranga Dhoega (Who will carry the national flag)’ or as protectors of the national flag in the Valley.

“The fight is between who will carry the Tiranga in Jammu Kashmir and who will not protect it. PDP leaders are openly saying that they will not hoist the national flag until Article 370 is restored,” Chugh, who just returned from the union territory, told ThePrint.

“They are seeking Chinese and Pakistani support for restoration of Article 370,” he added. “The fight is between nationalist forces and forces who want disturbance in J&K and also between those who want normalcy and those who don’t want it. This is a very special election where on one hand, the BJP is fighting for the national flag while the others are Chinese and Pakistan lovers.”

Chugh also claimed that the mood in the state was against the Gupkar alliance, a conglomerate of regional parties that includes the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“While touring Jammu and Kashmir, we felt people want change. They have tested Abdullah, Mehbooba and seen their enormous wealth creation during their rule,” he said. The Congress has lost credibility by aligning with the Gupkar Alliance. Tell me one thing if they are so strong why they have united in alliance and are then asking for help from outside. This shows their nervousness.”

The BJP is pulling out all stops as this is the first electoral exercise in Jammu and Kashmir since Article 370 was abrogated and the erstwhile state was divided into two union territories.

Home Minister Amit Shah had set the tone by calling the Gupkar Alliance, a conglomerate of regional parties, as the ‘Gupkar Gang’.

“Jammu and Kashmir has been, is and will always remain an integral part of India. Indian people will no longer tolerate an unholy ‘global gathbandhan’ against our national interest. Either the Gupkar Gang swims along with the national mood or else the people will sink it,” Shah had tweeted on 17 November.

Apart from Chugh, the party has also appointed Himachal Pradesh in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna, Delhi BJP leader Ashish Sood and Union Minister Anurag Thakur to oversee the poll process.

Other senior leaders who are likely to campaign are union ministers Jitendra Singh, Smriti Irani, Pratap Sarangi; Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, V. K. Singh and Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.

Also read: J&K begins to move DDC poll candidates to secure locations amid militant threats

Zero sum game for BJP

The polls are especially crucial for the BJP as they signal a return of normalcy in the erstwhile state and a sort of referendum on the abrogation of Article 370.

A J&K BJP vice president told ThePrint that whether the party wins or loses, it will be a victory for the Modi government.

“We are strong in the Jammu region, which is half of the seats. We expect our performance will be better there,” the BJP leader said on the condition of anonymity. “If our performance is good in both regions, it will be a new beginning for Jammu and Kashmir. It will also be the end of the Gupkar alliance. If, however, they retain power and get good seats, particularly the National Conference, it will be seen as the start of a democratic process, which is the Modi government’s ultimate vision for the union territory. It signals a restoration of normalcy and beginning of democratic process which was frozen after the abrogation of Article 370, it fits in the Centre’s larger narrative.”

Ashok Kaul, the organisational general secretary of the BJP, told ThePrint that the people of J&K want development. “After creating the union territory, there has been a sustained effort to restore normalcy and ensure development in J&K,” Kaul said. “In the last one year, things have changed. The people are afraid of militancy, a mandate in this poll will consolidate people’s belief in the democratic process.”

In the first tier of Block Development Council elections last year, the BJP won 52 of 148 seats in Jammu. Of 128 seats in the Valley, the BJP won 18 and independent candidates won 109 seats and the Congress one as the NC and PDP did not take part in the elections.

A National Conference leader on condition of anonymity said that the BJP should not expect a walkover. “BJP is expecting a walkover like BDC election when major political parties did not contest. But this time the parties are running a high decibel campaign.”

BJP’s J&K co-incharge Ashish Sood dismissed NC’s claims. “It’s not a question of BJP’s performance, there is infighting in the NC and PDP cadres. Both parties have fought separately for so long that it makes the coalition untenable,” Sood said. “The second factor that is working for the BJP is that the two have lost credibility. People want to know what they have done in the last six decades.”

Sood added that the parties will have to change their narrative to adapt to the times. “It would have been suicidal to not take part in the electoral process,” he said. “We have forced them to come and take part in it. Sooner or later, they will have to change their narrative to stay relevant. That itself is a victory for the BJP.”

Also read: Amit Shah calling Gupkar Alliance a ‘gang’ shows BJP thrown off game in Kashmir


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