Intro: Observers feel that over 20 per cent Muslim vote from the Jammu division will be polled in favour of the BJP this time.
When Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited families affected by Pakistani firing in Jammu’s border villages this October, he committed one of his biggest political faux pas. While ‘consoling’ a family that lost four members in the attack, he patted an orphaned child on the back and said “Koi baat nahi” (It doesn’t matter). Till today, Mahashiyan de Kothe, the small village where this happened, is not willing to forgive Omar for this insensitive remark.
Jammu shares its entire western border with Pakistan. The International Border (IB) along the plains in the southern part, comprise of villages and agricultural land. Continuous ceasefire violations make life tough for border villagers, who virtually spend their lives under the shadow of the gun. Now they are looking for a political leadership strong enough to give them a better life.
The effective retaliation from the Indian side to the recent spate of war-like firing and shelling from Pakistani side has impressed the villagers here. “Earlier they used to keep firing and our soldiers kept approaching them for flag meetings to try and maintain peace. But this time, it’s been the reverse. Indian soldiers hit back so strongly that Pakistanis had to run for cover and instead they asked for flag meetings,” said Tara Singh, a resident of Arnia. “This will have an impact on the Assembly elections as well. The BJP is definitely going to win seats in the border areas, right from Kathua to Poonch,” he says.
When the affected villagers had to move out of their homes to escape the shelling, it was the Central Government that helped them, said villagers. The BSF and Army arranged for shelter and food. So what was the state government doing at the time? “The state government can only think of Kashmir. They only focused on helping the flood affected people of Kashmir. We suffer enemy bullets all the year round, but the government is blind to our plight,” villagers say.
There are agricultural fields on both sides of the border. “Pakistani villagers harvest their crop before us, and then their soldiers start firing on us. They damage our crop, and also make it difficult for us to work on our fields. This happens every time. We are glad our forces gave them a shut up call this time,” said a local resident.
Let’s understand, what is this Modi factor all about and how has it influenced the villagers? For one, people are happy about the Jan Dhan Yojna, a mega financial inclusion plan under which bank accounts and debit cards with inbuilt insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh is being provided to persons who had no access to formal banking facilities. Thousands of rural folk have already availed this scheme. Another factor going in BJP’s favour is the reduction in diesel prices, which directly affects the farmer whose tractor running costs have come down.
Locals and socially active people throughout this belt – Kathua, Samba, Hiranagar, Arnia, Suchetgarh and even Akhnoor-are pretty convinced that the BJP stands to gain heavily in the upcoming elections. People are disappointed with the National Conference’s performance, while the Congress doesn’t hold much sway. The fight is between the PDP and the BJP.
Further north, Rajouri, Poonch, Badarwah and Kishtwar are mountainous regions. In these regions, border issues are unlikely to affect elections. However, the BJP is expected to make inroads here too. In the Poonch assembly constituency, the BJP candidate is seen as a strong contender. “If some national level leaders visit Poonch for campaigning, it can decisively turn the game in BJP’s favour,” a Poonch resident said. “If Modi ji were to hold a rally here, nothing like it,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
In Mehndar and Badarwah, the other two seats of Poonch region, the BJP candidates are going to give a tough fight to their opponents, but it remains to be seen how strong they emerge. The BJP is also expected to do well in three out of four seats in the Rajouri region.
Interestingly, the mountainous regions of Jammu division have a strong Muslim presence, especially Poonch and Mehndar. “Earlier, Muslims here did have misgivings about Modi. But Modi’s style of working has had a positive effect. Plus, everyone in this area is extremely unhappy with the National Conference government for its Kashmir-centric governance. They have come to feel that it is better to have the support of the Central Government, which has the resources to develop the area,” observers say.
—Abha Khanna Gupta