On the very first day of his election campaign, National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah warned party workers against rising communal forces in the country.
“Aag lagi hui hain,” the NC patron said in his unique style. At his histrionic best, the senior Abdullah asked his cadre to work hard to save the country from communal forces. The NC leader, who has always been a crowd puller, announced that “India cannot be a country with only one religion and if it is heading there, then a rethink is needed”.
Abdullah was speaking a day after Yogi Adityanath took oath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Although at a distance of 877km from Kashmir, the BJP’s decision to entrust UP’s chief ministership to Adityanath, who is seen as one of the most divisive and extreme voices of Hindutva, has not left Kashmir untouched.
Immediately after BJP registered a sweeping victory in UP, the two main opposition parties – the Congress and the NC – reached a pre-poll alliance for the Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir by-elections. The Congress will contest the Anantnag seat while the NC will field its candidate in Srinagar. The two parties have decided to field Abdullah, president of NC, as Srinagar candidate and Congress chief in J&K, GA Mir, will contest the Anantnag seat.
While Srinagar constituency will go to polls on April 9, polling in Anantnag will be held on April 12. The Anantnag constituency had fallen vacant after Mehbooba Mufti became the chief minister last year. Nazir Ahmad Khan had been announced as the party’s candidate from Srinagar after senior leader and one of the PDP founders, Tariq Hameed Karra, left the party in protest after protracted violence in 2016 left at least 90 people dead in the Kashmir Valley.
The NC upped its ante the day the BJP announced that Adityanath would be UP chief minister. Former CM Omar Abdullah hit out at PDP president Mehbooba, expressing concern and anguish over the UP CM’s name. “Congratulations @MehboobaMufti. Your friends & allies have chosen a man who called for the dead bodies of Muslim women to be raped as CM,” Abdullah wrote on Twitter. “Do you still want to try and fool the people of Kashmir, especially those who trusted you in 2014, that a new Vajpayee-like era is starting,” he said in another tweet.
The PDP, which publicly has refrained from coming on record on UP, looks visibly hassled at the choice in the run-up to the election. Speaking to HT on condition of anonymity, a senior PDP leader said, “The party has to go to elections with the burden of 2016 unrest and Yogi Adityanath’s appointment. They (NC) are trying hard to utilise it.”
The leader, who admitted that the choice of chief minister “scared him”, says, “The rise of Hindutva extremism is a reality and we need to engage with this reality,” justifying the alliance with the BJP.
While Mehbooba who, on one hand, is still trying to hard-sell the alliance with the BJP to people, maintains that only “Narendra Modi can heal the wounds of Kashmiri people”, she has started talking about issues like the revocation of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (ASFPA) to try and gain some lost ground in her core constituency. “We should not shy away from revocation of the AFSPA. When things improve, why not?” she said at an India Foundation counter-terrorism conference in New Delhi.
However, her brother Tasaduq, contesting from the restive Anantnag constituency, seems to have gauged the situation better. The junior Mufti, who formally joined the party in January, asked his party men to prioritise their “safety and not winning election”. “Your safety comes first…even if we don’t win, it doesn’t matter,” he told PDP workers at the first campaign meeting. PDP leaders had to reportedly face stone-pelting youth during a rally in south Kashmir.
Policemen chase Kashmiri protesters during a demonstration in Srinagar. (AP File Photo)
Tasaduq’s constituency includes the four districts of Pulwama, Tral, Shopian and Anantnag, which reported not only the highest incidences of violent protests but also had the highest number of causalities. Militant leader Burhan Wani, whose death triggered the unrest, was also from the constituency.
“The first-timer is faced with a humongous task of going to people after the unrest and justifying alliance with a party where Yogi Adityanath, who calls Muslims beasts on two feet, is a leader of choice,” said another PDP leader.
While Kashmiris generally refrain from reacting to political developments in the rest of the country, Adityanath’s appointment and the results of the UP election have not left Kashmir untouched. People are discussing the UP chief minister in drawing rooms, on dinner mats, and on social media.
Kashmir did not react when Narendra Modi, who was unpopular in the Valley after the 2002 Gujarat riots, became the Prime Minister. But people have not remained aloof to the changing political dynamics. “Yogi is a huge statement from BJP,” says former Reuters bureau chief, Sheikh Mushtaq. The argument in Kashmir post-2014 elections was that the “Congress or BJP are same sides of the coin and doesn’t matter for Kashmiris who is at the helm”.
“When Modi came to power, it (BJP) was still a mainstream party and Kashmir did not see it differently than Congress. However, with Adityanath, a Muslim-hating fringe has become mainstream and that seems to be a visible agenda,” Mushtaq says. “People don’t see Yogi as a threat to Kashmir, they are worried about Indian Muslims now.”
The argument sees reflection in social media, which range from netizens eulogising Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a “visionary” to commenting that “Indian Muslims who chose secular India over Muslim Pakistan deserved better than Yogi Adityanath”.
Every social media status and news story shared had one name in common – that was the monk CM’s. Kashmiri youth are showing contempt as well as shock over the choice. “This is why many anti-India thinkers in Kashmir were rejoicing at BJP’s winning UP: rabid, communal Adityanath is the CM!!!” says one Facebook post. “Yogi Adityanath will interpret Gandhi’s Ram Rajya. Evolution,” said another.
“He has proved that Jinnah was right and Gandhi was wrong,” says a young college student who did not want to be identified. “The Hindu extremist wave is all over and we will also feel the heat soon,” the senior PDP leader echoes the student.