BOOK EXCERPT: Land row and elections - 7
by Hari Om on 30 Jun 2010 0 Comment

With the resolution of the Baltal land issue on August 31, political parties started wooing their respective constituencies. Significantly, the BJP, which had played a very significant role in the land-restoration movement, did not go gaga over the land restoration to the SASB. The BJP maintained a low profile for quite sometime, notwithstanding the fact that it had asserted time and again during the days of agitation that it would capture 20 to 25 Assembly seats and that either it would form next government in the state (Dainik Jagran, July 20) or play a crucial role in the process of government formation – assertions based on its belief that the people would surely reward it for the role it played during the agitation.


Perhaps, it wanted to dispel the notion that it had spearheaded the movement. During all those more than 62 days of agitation, the BJP leaders clarified time and again that their party was just a constituent of the SAYSS and not the chief determinant. Perhaps, they also wanted to convey a feeling that the BJP will not take political mileage out of the land issue. Why the BJP, which otherwise had made its intentions public on day one by saying that the Amarnath land issue would be the party’s chief election plank during the Assembly elections as well as the 2009 general elections, turned so apologetic was beyond comprehension. The BJP had struggled for a just cause and everyone knew it full well. It should have acknowledged that its cadres did play the role of pioneer. But it had turned apologetic in 1992 as well, when the RSS, the BJP, the VHP and the BD kar sewaks (volunteers) demolished the disputed structure at Ayodhya.


The post-1992 BJP was altogether different from the pre-1992 BJP. For the post-1992 BJP, unlike the pre-1992 BJP, was interested more in the loaves and fishes of office than in its ideology. It’s true that it did talk of Article 370, uniform civil code and Ram Temple from time to time between 1992 and 1998, and even after 1998. But it is also true that the BJP leaders did not attach much significance to its core ideology, which had given their party status and respectability. ……  


The low profile maintained by the BJP after the conclusion of truce over the land has to be viewed in this context, as also in the context that the party had virtually made up its mind to enter into an alliance with the NC and share power with it. However, the BJP consistently held the view that the Assembly elections should be held on time so that the popular government was in place before November 2, 2008. Its argument was that popular government was always better than Governor’s rule and that not to hold elections on time would be simply to walk into the trap of the Kashmiri separatists and fundamentalists.


On the other hand, the Jammu-based Congress leaders, who had found themselves in a soup following the cancellation of the land transfer order, pooh-poohed the BJP leadership and gave credit to the Union Government and the party high command for resolving the land issue. They sought to identify themselves with the people of Jammu by saying that they sided with them during the agitation, that they camped in Delhi for a number of days to convince the Prime Minister and the AICC president that their demand was just and rational and that they took part in the agitation risking their political career. At the same time, however, they, like the Kashmir-based Congress leaders and Ghulam Nabi Azad, were of the opinion that the time was not opportune for an electoral exercise. They were mortally afraid of the idea of early elections or elections on time. The upshot of their opposition to early elections was that the land agitation had “polarized the polity on regional and communal lines” and that holding elections on time would only mean helping the BJP and the PDP achieve major electoral successes.


The attitude of the PDP and the NC was almost identical. The Jammu-based PDP and NC leaders continued to invite ire of the common people of Jammu as during the days of agitation. They abhorred the idea of elections in the state at that time. Significantly, the Kashmir-based PDP and NC leaders, including Mehbooba Mufti, also expressed themselves against Assembly elections. Their argument was that the prevailing environment was not suitable for any kind of electoral exercise. They wanted the Union Government to conciliate the people of Kashmir by introducing more confidence building measures before holding elections in the state. In fact, they asked the Prime Minister during the all-party meeting, held at Srinagar on October 10, not to toy with the idea of elections.


It needs to be noted that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had come to Srinagar …in the second week of October 2008 to ascertain the views of political parties in this regard. The all-party meeting continued for at least three hours. This author was present in the meeting. Concluding the proceedings, the Prime Minister gave a hint that elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly were round the corner. ……


The Election Commission visited the state immediately for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation, interacted with representatives of the various political parties to ascertain their views on the issue and announced the 7-phase election schedule on October 19 (Daily Excelsior, October 20, 2008).                             


Failure of BJP


The announcement of the election schedule electrified the situation in the state in general and Jammu province in particular. The BJP was the first to welcome the decision of the Election Commission of India. The BJP described it as the people’s victory. Immediately after the announcement of the election schedule, the core group and election committee of the state BJP met twice to select the party candidates, but could not complete the exercise. The reason was dissensions within the party. There were three main groups in the state BJP, one each being led by party president Ashok Khajuria and general secretary (organization) Ajay Jamwal, former Union Minister of State Chaman Lal Gupta and former state BJP president Nirmal Singh. Each one of them wanted to get maximum number of tickets for his supporters. It was talk of the town that each one of them wanted to become “Deputy Chief Minister” in the new government. One of the three BJP leaders, Nirmal Singh, had declared in the meeting that he would contest only the Lok Sabha election and that he would campaign for all the party candidates. Everyone accepted his suggestion. At the same time, however, he wanted the party’s mandate for his wife as well as his elder brother. He threw his hat in the ring only when the party high command did not consider the candidature of his wife and brother for the Assembly elections. It was revealed by an insider, who mattered very much in the selection process, that “Nirmal Singh wanted an assurance that he would be made the leader of the BJP Legislature Party in the Assembly”.   


It needs to be underlined that the BJP had started the process of finalizing the names of party candidates much earlier, even before the announcement of the election schedule. The party’s core group, the election committee, the BJP zonal secretary Manohar Lal and party’s in-charge and co-in-charge Shanta Kumar, former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, and R.P. Singh respectively, had met in the Jammu’s Circuit House and New Delhi’s Himachal Bhawan at least three times between May and September to reach a consensus, but had failed. They met again in Jammu for the fourth and final time on October 29 and 30 to clinch the whole issue so that the party candidates could start their election campaigning in right earnest.


A number of aspirants met Shanta Kumar, Manohar Lal and R.P. Singh and sought the party mandate. This author, who had been handling the media and producing literature for the party at the state level, and even at the national level since years, also met them. The crux of the meeting between the spokesman and the three central BJP leaders was that the BJP must ensure the entry into the Assembly of those who will vehemently oppose the official bills which needed to be opposed and support those bills which needed to be supported at any cost. Shanta Kumar got dumbfounded when he was informed that one of the BJP legislators opposed in 1998 the Jammu-specific official bill that had been designed to establish Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Technical University in Katra, Jammu, and that none of the eight BJP legislators opposed in February 2002 that anti-democratic and essentially anti-Jammu amendment that banned delimitation of the Assembly constituencies till 2026. (According to the amendment, delimitation commission would be constituted only after the 2031 census)…


The announcement of candidates for the Assembly polls shocked many party workers… Some of them had even gone to the extent of charging the party high command with siding with the “uninspiring and self-centered” Jammu-based leaders “ignoring the claims of the genuine and dedicated party workers”… Their grievance was that the “party high command” had conducted itself in a “hush, hush and dictatorial manner” and “imposed its unfair decision on the BJP cadres, who worked round-the-clock during the historic struggle in Jammu on the issue of land diversion to the SASB”. Yet another grievance of theirs was that the party high command, instead of fielding Nirmal Singh in his home constituency, Basohli, and Chaman Lal Gupta in the Gandhi Nagar constituency, where he lives, gave in to their demands and fielded them in the “safe Gandhi Nagar and Jammu West constituencies”…


It was under these circumstances that the BJP entered the electoral arena. A number of central BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal, Shanta Kumar, Arun Jaitley, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Smriti Irani came to Jammu to muster support for the party candidates. Each one of them virtually sought votes in the name Shri Amarnath. Each one of them fervently appealed to the Jammu electorate to remember the land agitation and the role of the Congress in the land controversy while exercise their franchise. They concentrated their attack on the Congress. None of the central leaders even once took on the NC in the real sense of the term.


The election result was declared on December 26. Congress won 13 seats in Jammu province out of a total of 37 seats. The BJP, which jumped into the electoral arena as the favourite and publicly claimed that it would win not less than 20 seats, could win only 11 seats and got 4,76,662 votes (Verdict 2008, Department of Information, J&K Government), the NC 6 as against 9 it won in 2002, the JKNPP 3 as against 4 in 2002 and the PDP 2. The people of Kathua and Bishnah preferred independent candidates. In other words, independent candidates emerged victorious in the region’s two very important Assembly segments. In Kashmir province, the PDP won 19 out of a total of 46 seats, the NC captured 20 seats as against 17 it won in 2002, the Congress scored victory in three constituencies as against 5 seats it had won in 2002 and an independent candidate, the DPN, the PDF and the CPI-M captured one seat each. As for Ladakh, the NC won two seats and the Congress and independent candidate one each. The Ladakh Union Territory Front (LUTF), which had captured two seats in Leh in 2002, could not open its account in 2008.  


The BJP leaders in Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi were extremely jubilant. They said that their party had performed exceptionally well. They were partly right and partly wrong. Right because the BJP won 11 seats, as against the paltry one it had won in 2002 by a very slender margin of sixty odd votes. But wrong in the sense that the BJP, which could otherwise had easily won a minimum of 20 to 23 seats in Jammu province and really become a force to reckon with…...


The BJP raked up six issues to win over the Jammu electorate. These were: (1) the Amarnath land controversy, (2) discrimination with Jammu, (3) Kashmiri domination, (4) under-representation of Jammu in the Assembly, (5) terrorism and (6) the alleged statement of the senior Congress leader and the then Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, that “the Congress and the PDP may enter into a post-poll alliance to form the next government in the state”…

The BJP leadership failed because it allowed the three local leaders a free hand and because they rigorously excluded the non-BJP groups which had contributed substantially to the land restoration movement. It was their arrogance and non-accommodating approach that estranged most of the people and the non-BJP organizations involved in the agitation.


Let us now look at the constituencies wherefrom the BJP candidates won and lost the election. This exercise is imperative to reach a right conclusion. The BJP candidates won from the constituencies where the land movement was weak or which remained somewhat unaffected by it… constituencies like Reasi, Basohli, Bani and Nagrota. The BJP candidates suffered defeat in most of the constituencies which were the epicenter of the unprecedented agitation, and where some persons lost their precious lives fighting for the religious cause and for ideological considerations. Kathua, Billawar, Samba, Vijaypur, Bishnah, Gandhi Nagar, Chhamb, Akhnoor, Udhampur, Chenani and Ramban were the worst affected constituencies, but the people of these hot spots defeated the BJP candidates and elected those belonging to the Congress, the NC and the JKNPP.


Samba, where four young men lost their lives during the agitation and which remained under curfew for several days… elected the JKNPP candidate, a sitting MLA. Kathua, where one person lost his life and which remained under curfew for days and days together… elected an independent candidate, Charanjit Singh, who was a novice and former civil servant. Bishnah, from where Shilpi Verma, widow of Kuldip Verma, contested election, returned to the Assembly an independent candidate, Aswini Sharma, who also happened to be a sitting candidate. And she lost the election despite the fact that several top-ranking BJP leaders, including the “vote-catcher” and “charismatic” Narendra Modi, campaigned in this constituency…


Jammu East, Jammu West, Raipur-Domana, Suchetgarh, R S Pura, and Hiranagar were the only constituencies where the people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP candidates. They voted for the BJP not because it gave an emotional orientation to the election campaign, but because of some local factors and mistakes of the Congress…


Congress number one


The Congress, which contested the 2008 Assembly elections in the Jammu province against heavy odds, scored a sort of victory over the BJP. It won 13 seats this time as against 15 it won in 2002. The most significant aspect of the whole electoral exercise, which took place in the highly surcharged environment, was that the Congress again emerged as the number one party in Jammu province. It got 4,98,353 votes - 21,661 more votes as compared to the BJP.


…most of the Congress candidates who lost to the BJP were ministers in the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led government and they included Mangat Ram Sharma, Mula Ram, Gulchain Singh Charak, Jugal Kishore Sharma, Suman Bhagat and Gharu Ram. They were a party to the land revocation order. That almost all the Congress ministers lost the election was a reflection on their performance. …


Congress also suffered reverses in the constituencies like Marh, Jammu East, Nagrota, Hiranagar and Kalakot. Five causes were responsible for the Congress defeat. One was the presence of rebel candidates in these constituencies, who spoiled the electoral chances of the official candidates. The other was the indifferent attitude of the local leaders… The third was the lack of interest on the part of the JKPCC leadership. The fourth reason was that the Congress started the campaign much later and that its top leadership was plagued by infighting and confusion over choice of candidates. There was a general perception within the party and outside that the relations between the JKPCC chief and former Chief Minister were not friendly… Lastly, the Congress was organizationally weak and not better prepared for elections. Had the Congress fielded strong and new candidates in these constituencies and reined in the rebels on time, the election results in Jammu province would have been quite different and it would have captured a minimum of 20 seats in the crucial Jammu province and formed the next government in the state…  …


[Congress leaders] would always refer to the BJP’s approach towards Article 370... saying the latter always talked about abrogation of this Article, but removed from the manifesto that portion which dealt with it. They also exploited to the hilt L.K Advani’s Pakistan statement that “Mohammad Ali Jinnah”, the father and founder of Pakistan and an ardent believer in the pernicious two-nation theory, was “secular”. So much so, the Congress candidates time and again pooh-poohed the claim of the BJP that it alone could neutralize the scourge of terrorism and countered the BJP campaign by saying that it was during the BJP-led NDA rule that the then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh escorted the dreaded terrorists, including Masud Azhar, to Kandhar (Afghanistan), who later conspired against India and became instrumental in the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.  


Growth of PDP


The PDP, which could not get even 2 per cent votes in Jammu province in the 2002 Assembly elections, opened its account in 2008 in this region by capturing two Muslim-majority seats - Mender and Darhal. It lost one seat – Muslim-majority Rajouri – by a very narrow margin...


…there was no enthusiasm for the PDP amongst party workers till the first phase of elections. The attitude of the voters towards the PDP was also not really positive. Convinced that the PDP was sure to get a drubbing, the separatists, including Jamat-e-Islami activists, openly came out in support of the Muftis and campaigned for their party. Perhaps, there was a signal from Pakistan as well to support the PDP. This helped the PDP to an extent.            


The PDP not only extended its area of influence in the Jammu province, it also increased its tally in Kashmir. That the PDP, instead of becoming unpopular in Kashmir because of its opportunistic politics (it shared power with and condemned the Congress at the same time), increased its tally from 16 to 19 is a clear proof that the Amarnath land controversy did help the PDP to an extent. The PDP gained both in Kashmir and Jammu at the cost of NC, notwithstanding the fact that both the regional parties indulged in competitive communalism.


Rajya Sabha elections


Members of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly went to the polls on February 13, 2009 and elected two of the four members to the Rajya Sabha. Two candidates of the NC-Congress ruling coalition, JKPCC president Saif-Ud-Din Soz and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, had been declared elected unopposed on February 6.


There were four candidates in the fray. Two belonged to the ruling alliance. They were the NC president Farooq Abdullah and former Finance Minister Mohammad Shafi Uri. Farooq Abdullah took over as the party president after the elevation of his son to the post of Chief Minister. The remaining two candidates were Altaf Bukhari and Ashok Vijay Gupta. While Altaf Bukhari had been fielded by the PDP, Ashok Vijay Gupta had been fielded by the BJP. Ashok Vijay Gupta was not a member of the party. He was basically the choice of Chaman Lal Gupta.


The victory of Farooq Abdullah was a foregone conclusion considering the numerical strength of the NC-Congress combine in the Assembly, The chances of Shafi Uri also appeared quite bright because all the 44 NC-Congress legislators, plus the three Congress-supported legislators, were there in strength to cast their second preference votes in favour of the ruling coalition’s candidate, thus upsetting the calculations of his rivals.


The winning prospects of Shafi Uri had shaken and unnerved both the PDP and the BJP. Both these parties did all that they could to ensure the defeat of Shafi Uri. There were reports that the PDP and the BJP might join hands and cultivate independent legislators, including two from the Jammu province, to capture one of the two Rajya Sabha seats. The January 30 New Delhi talks between BJP national general secretary Arun Jaitley and the PDP candidate Altaf Bukhari, which were followed by parleys between Bukhari and Dilawar Mir of the PDP and the local BJP leader (Chaman Lal Gupta) in Jammu, and the February 8 press conference of the BJP-sponsored candidate all indicated that the two parties might enter into some kind of alliance to achieve their goal.


The January 30 pro-Mufti statement of Arun Jaitley (Dainik Jagran, January 31, 2009) also served to establish that the before-the-election opposition of the BJP towards the PDP and the vice-versa was nothing but an exercise aimed at misleading their respective constituencies and meeting their political ends. It needs to be noted that the PDP and the BJP had 32 members in the Assembly. The PDP or the BJP could win one of the two seats by voting in one direction.


The parleys between the BJP and the PDP held in very cordial atmosphere both in New Delhi and Jammu over the issue and Arun Jaitley’s statement that “Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is a seasoned politician” and “that it would not mind supporting the PDP in case it fields Mufti Sayeed” upset the people of Jammu province. They had never expected that the BJP, which all along opposed the PDP and its religio-political agenda, would ever befriend Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and others of his ilk…


The attitude of the JKNPP was no different. At least two of its legislators were known for their soft attitude towards PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. There were indications that the JKNPP leadership might also make common cause with the PDP and the BJP. Statements emanating from its party headquarters (Gandhi Nagar) and the manner in which its chairman had approached the Election Commission of India asking it to debar Ghulam Nabi Azad from casting his vote on February 13 all indicated the intentions of the JKNPP.


That said, the parleys between the BJP and the PDP did not produce any result. The basic reason was that the unwillingness of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to contest the Rajya Sabha election. With the result, the BJP changed its stance. It declared that it would not support the PDP candidate. On the other hand, the JKNPP remained firm on its stand and announced that it would not only vote in favour of the PDP candidate, but would work for the defeat of the NC-Congress coalition candidate.


As expected, both the BJP and the PDP candidates lost the election. The winners obviously were Farooq Abdullah and Shafi Uri. However, the election result stunned the BJP all the more because one of the BJP legislators exercised his second preference vote in favour of the NC candidate... The cross-voting had its adverse impact on the BJP, with the people of Jammu ridiculing it and its leadership and accusing it of double-speak. This episode did dent the image of the BJP and became one of the causes of its defeat in the general elections.


Criticism of the BJP was one side of the story of Rajya Sabha elections. The other side of the story was far more serious. It raised certain fundamental issues. One of the issues was the negation of the cardinal principles of secularism and democracy and the resultant exclusion of the non-Muslim minorities from the Rajya Sabha elections. The non-Muslim minorities, which rightly took secularism and democracy to mean an all-inclusive ideology, were expecting that the Congress and the NC combine would field at least one non-Muslim and ensure his/her entry into the Rajya Sabha. But it did not happen. Instead, the decision-makers allotted all the four seats to the followers of one particular religion. Kashmir got three seats and Jammu one. …


Excerpted from Chapter 7 of Conflicting Perceptions, by Prof. Hari Om, Yak Publishing Channel, Jammu, 2009 [Pages 417; Price: 975/-]

P.O. BOX 130, Wadha Vehra, Pacca Danga, Jammu – 180001

Ph: 0191 – 2549919, 0191 – 2566163 

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