Kavinder Gupta, Jammu and Kashmir’s former Deputy Chief Minister, downplays the controversy over 25 lakh potential new voters in the Union Territory. He is confident that the BJP’s welfare schemes and outreach to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will ensure its victory in the next election, even as he skirts queries on the growing alienation in the Kashmir Valley. Excerpts from an interview.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been waiting endlessly for the Assembly election. When will the election be held and what are the BJP’s prospects?
The BJP is the only party with an active cadre base at every polling station. We recently identified “weak booths” within every Assembly constituency and deployed a team of 25 workers in each such booth to reinvigorate the party’s connect with the electorate. We have demographic data from every pocket of Jammu, and our contact programmes are designed in keeping with local expectations.
The delimitation of Assembly constituencies is now complete and the Election Commission is currently working on the new voter lists. It is a comprehensive process that will include new constituencies of voters such as the West Pakistan Refugees, the Valmikis and the Gorkhas, who hitherto did not have franchise [in Assembly elections]. Earlier, regional parties such as the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party covertly ensured an election boycott, so that they could win taking advantage of low polling. But the BJP has successfully reversed that trend.
“The delimitation of Assembly constituencies is now complete and the Election Commission is currently working on the new voter lists. It is a comprehensive process that will include new constituencies of voters such as the West Pakistan Refugees, the Valmikis and the Gorkhas, who hitherto did not have franchise.”
The Election Commission’s statement on adding 25 lakh new voters to the rolls has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The PAGD has accused the Narendra Modi government of trying to inundate Jammu and Kashmir with non-local voters.
How is it rational or democratic to deny anyone the right to vote if one has been living in a State for years and decades? There is a stated criterion to acquire voting right from a given State or region, and this right is made use of by people as per their own wish. The government doesn’t force individuals to register as voters from a place of its choice. There is a sizeable population of the armed forces’ families living in Jammu and Kashmir. How can we deny them the right to vote when their kin are tirelessly working to protect our frontiers?
The entire controversy surrounding the addition of 25 lakh voters is misleading. The last Assembly election was held in 2014. Hence there is a natural increase in the number of voters, with lakhs of under-18 children attaining adulthood. There are potential new voters from among the West Pakistani refugees and members of the Valmiki and Gorkha communities who have been extended the right to vote.
There is a perception that the BJP has a role to play in Ghulam Nabi Azad floating a new political party. The BJP stands to gain in the Chenab valley and Pir Panjal if the Muslim votes split?
The rifts within the Congress are not a secret. Ghulam Nabi Azad was pioneering the rebel G-23 faction within the Congress, and in due course he left the party. People are exiting the Congress in droves because of lack of internal democracy. There is no point in blaming the BJP for it.
While Azad’s announcement of a new party may or may not fragment the Muslim vote, it is not a new phenomenon. We have seen other political parties such as the PDP, the Peoples Conference, Apni Party emerge in the past decades, but they were the outcome of unique political circumstances. To suddenly see a machination behind Azad’s new front and link it to the BJP is not fair.
The AAP has entered Jammu and Kashmir with the twin plank of development and Hindutva. How difficult will it be for the BJP in Jammu to retain the Hindu consolidation seen in its favour in recent years?
The AAP in Jammu is an assortment of self-serving leaders from other regional parties, particularly the Panthers Party, whose electoral fortunes had sharply declined over the years. There is neither any ideological commitment nor any progressive vision for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In any case, people can see through their political gimmicks. The AAP has hardly any takers in Jammu and Kashmir. People are steadfast supporters of the BJP.
But how will you get the numbers to form the government, especially when you have rattled major parties in Kashmir and there is little scope for an alliance?
We have given space and respect to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes such as the Gujjars, who had been systematically ignored by the previous dispensations. We have given them nine seats, and we are hopeful they will be favourably inclined towards us. There are 43 seats in Jammu, of which around 10 are Muslim-majority. Not only will we sweep the Hindu-dominated constituencies, the Muslims of Jammu are increasingly receptive to our leaders. Recently, a member of the ST community, Engineer Ghulam Ali Khatana, was nominated to the Rajya Sabha following the Centre’s recommendation. The perception of Muslims about the BJP is changing as there is recognition that we are empowering leaders from every community.
In Jammu where there is resentment against ending job and land exclusivity, your party’s articulation is not categorical. Do you want Jammu and Kashmir to be thrown open to everybody or do you wish to safeguard job and land exclusivity?
It is not immediately possible to allow everyone to become a domicile of J&K. There is a provision [in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act] that only those who have lived in J&K for a minimum of 15 years will be regarded as a domicile. This preserves the local people’s basic rights.
One has to understand that the resentment in the people [of Jammu] is not over the question of who is a domicile but over the step-motherly treatment meted out to them in the past decades [by earlier State governments]. There was no investment, and consequently, no job opportunities. It will take time to redress the policy failures of 70 years, but the BJP is addressing people’s deep-rooted apprehensions and livelihood issues. For example, we regularised the pay of daily wage labourers to a minimum of Rs.9,000 a month, an issue which no erstwhile government of Jammu and Kashmir cared to address. The environment is changing; an investment of Rs.33,000 crore [for the UT] is listed already.
But there is marked alienation in Kashmir, which is an outcome of denying a democratic platform to people to express dissent. Anti-terror laws are being slapped on journalists and civil society members. Hasn’t that impacted India’s image globally?
This is not a fair representation of things. Today, there is no stone-pelting in Kashmir, there are no Pakistani flags being unfurled, and there are no crowds rallying around terrorists’ funeral processions. All of that has boosted India’s image and made Jammu and Kashmir a safe territory to visit. The tremendous potential for tourism in Kashmir is now being tapped, as is evident from record tourist footfall. This will lead to tremendous employment generation. There is a significant push to infrastructure with the expansion of the national highway network. The past years have seen proliferation of two AIIMS, an IIT, IIM, medical colleges, Central universities. All of that has given hope to the people for a secure and prosperous future.
- The BJP’s Kavinder Gupta, who is also former Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, is confident that the BJP will do well in the next election.
- There are groups that are being enfranchised and given recognition for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir by the present dispensation, he says.
- He says the entire controversy surrounding the addition of 25 lakh voters is misleading. After the last Assembly election in 2014, there is a natural increase in the number of voters, he says.
- He dismisses as baseless speculation that the BJP had anything to do with Ghulam Nabi Azad’s resignation from the Congress.