The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has won three seats in the District Development Council elections, the first elections held after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s limited-autonomy on 5 August 2019. The party won one seat in south, central, and northern Kashmir each.
The BJP had conducted a high spirited campaign for its candidates in Kashmir, who contested on several seats in Kashmir, and made a brouhaha, as did much of the national press, after the results were announced.
The BJP campaign’s focus had been on the alleged corruption of Kashmiri unionists and the promises of an era of development. However, the party could only win three of the Kashmir Division’s 140 seats.
The party’s celebration, however, was disproportionate.
The BJP candidate who wasn’t?
The party’s only woman candidate to win a DDC seat is Minha Latif, a law student, who had contested from the Kakapora seat — reserved for women — in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. She polled 365 votes, winning with a close margin of thirty-nine votes.
The Pulwama district had recorded low voter turnout amid heightened tensions surrounding the elections, owing to the deep-rooted resentment against and disillusionment with the electoral process. Latif is the daughter of the BJP minority wing’s vice-president, Latif Bhat.
When The Kashmir Walla reached out to Minha over her father’s phone — provided by other party officials, she first agreed to speak but couldn’t answer any question. She, however, stated that “she hadn’t joined the BJP” and abruptly ended the phone call.
Later, Bhat, her father, who is a BJP member, spoke on Minha’s behalf.
Bhat, a former Congress member who joined the BJP “because there was a Modi wave at that time”, said that “the [Kakapora] seat was reserved for women so I made my daughter contest the elections instead.” When asked why Minha had denied being a member of the BJP, Bhat said that “since I am with the BJP, it automatically means that my family is also part of the BJP”.
Bhat said that he campaigned for Minha and that the public voted for her “knowing that I have done a lot of small works for them.” In the coming future, he said as he repeated the BJP’s electoral catchphrase, “God willing we will bring development to our village and constituency.”
Lotuses that bloomed
Among the winning candidates is the party’s prominent Kashmiri member, Aijaz Hussain. He won the central Kashmir seat of Khonmoh-II — polling 823 votes, defeating Ghulam Hassan of the recently formed Apni Party by a margin of 526 votes.
“This is a win for the BJP,” a victorious Hussain told reporters at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre, where votes were counted. “The propaganda has been bust as people have shown their faith in the Prime Minister and his policies. This is a message that nationalists are prospering in Kashmir.”
“The first lotus has bloomed in Kashmir,” tweeted the BJP’s national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, who also campaigned for Hussain in Kashmir. Reacting to another BJP candidate’s victory, Hussain tweeted: “This marks a paradigm shift in the politics of Kashmir.”
Hussain is currently in-charge of the BJP’s youth wing — Bharatiya Janata Youth Morcha — in West Bengal and the party’s national vice president. He joined the BJP’s youth wing in 2006 and steadily rose through the ranks. He has been a vocal critic of Kashmiri unionists and supports the party’s stand on the abrogation of the erstwhile state’s limited-autonomy.
The party’s winning candidate from the Tulail DDC seat in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district is Aijaz Khan, who had earlier won the rural body polls as an independent candidate and is currently the chairperson of the local Block Development Council in Gurez.
Khan had contested the rural body polls as an independent candidate since the party was facing resentment among the locals owing to the continued denial of basic amenities, according to a party official. Both Khan and his father, a former legislator in the 1996 state assembly as a Congress member, had later joined the People’s Democratic Party before joining the BJP.