The Bharatiya Janata Party is facing growing opposition in Jammu province. The party, which won 25 of Jammu’s 37 seats in 2014 by promising to further the interests of the province, is being accused of giving up on everything it stood for.
On September 23, BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh was heckled by Dogra activists while he was addressing a function marking the birthday of the state’s last Dogra monarch, Hari Singh.
Activists carrying saffron flags waved black cloth and shouted slogans criticising Singh, the BJP and the party’s coalition government with the Peoples Democratic Party. “Jammu ke gadaar hai hai,” they shouted. Down with the betrayers of Jammu. They demanded Singh’s resignation and blocked his cavalcade as he tried to leave before the event had ended.
The same day, lawyers in Jammu observed a holiday and organised celebrations honouring Hari Singh.
The Dogra activists and lawyers are angry with the BJP for failing to convince the People’s Democratic Party to declare Hari Singh’s birthday as a state holiday, but the resentment is not limited to this matter.
On September 18, Jammu city observed a shutdown to protest the remarks of BJP state chief Sat Sharma that the resentment against his party was limited to a few individuals. That the shutdown was observed voluntarily by the trading community – and not enforced by Hindutva organisations sympathetic to the BJP – is seen as a worrying sign for the saffron party. “It was an eye opener for the central government,” said Rakesh Gupta, head of the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
Gupta said there is a realisation among people in Jammu that the BJP has failed to deliver on its promises and to reach out effectively to voters.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Jammu early this month led to an outpour of grievances by BJP supporters. Delegations of civil society groups and traders complained about the party’s functioning and the lack of development in the province.
The delegations, one of them from the High Court Bar Association, demanded the abrogation of Article 35A, and continue to press the demand. The provision gives the state legislature the power to define “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir and provide them special rights and privileges. It also bars people from outside the state from acquiring immovable property or getting government jobs.
“We are not concerned with the political ramifications of the abrogation,” said BS Slathia, head of the Bar Association. “We are only concerned with the legal aspect of it.”
Ironically, the home minister’s remarks on the matter only added to the resentment. Harsh Dev, chairman of the Panther’s Party, said Rajnath Singh statements were an attempt “to hoodwink” the people of Jammu. “On one hand, he says nothing will be done against aspiration of people of Kashmir but when he came to Jammu he said the matter is sub-judice and whatever the Supreme Court decides is final,” Dev said. “They want to remain in power at all costs. That is the only objective of the BJP.”
Another complaint against the BJP is that it has not moved on the delimitation of constituencies. Jammu has 37 seats in the state’s 87-member Assembly, nine fewer than the Kashmir Valley, which leaders from Jammu claim is a sign of the Valley’s domination. (The other four seats are in Ladakh province.) Kashmiris “have a higher number of seats so they have a powerful voice”, Dev alleged. “Politics is a game of numbers and if we have a balance of numbers, they will be subdued a little.”
It will take a little while for the numbers to change. An amendment to the Indian Constitution in 2002, adopted by the state legislature, has frozen the number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats until the first census after 2026. As a consequence, the freeze will effectively stay in place until at least 2031.
Jammu and Kashmir has the power to revoke this law through an amendment to its own Constitution. However, that would require a two-thirds majority. The coalition government has nowhere near that strength.
Still, while the number of seats is likely to stay the same, region-wise adjustments could be made. But the BJP, the complaint in Jammu goes, has not taken up the matter. “Delimitation is an important issue that the BJP has not touched since it formed the government, thinking that it will upset the PDP,” said senior lawyer Hari Chand Jhalmeria. He added that Kashmir-based parties perceive any such adjustments detrimental to their interests.
There is also a perception in Jammu that Kashmir corners most of the state’s jobs. Virender Gupta, head of the state BJP’s “Good Governance” department that reports to the central BJP on the performance of the party’s ministers, said it was difficult to say “whether the people are happy or unhappy as there is positive and negative feedback. People are particularly concerned about empowerment of Jammu; decisions taken by Kashmiri leadership, and major ministerial portfolios being with the Kashmiris.”
However, Gupta conceded that the people of Jammu are not satisfied. “Delivery of ministers from Jammu is not satisfactory,” he admitted. “The Jammu region has major grievances that they expected the party would address when in power. Most of the projects are still in the pipeline. There are investments in these but there is no remarkable progress as such. And most of the progress that is being reported is from centrally-funded projects.”
Gupta said there was little information on where Constituency Development Funds were used. BJP ministers and MLAs, he complained, were not cooperating with his department. “To be frank it’s also not working that efficiently, we don’t get much information from the MLAs and ministers,” he said.
Burden of the alliance
Leela Karan Sharma, state president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, said the resentment in Jammu was targetted at the state BJP. The Centre, he claimed, had delivered on its promises such as retaliating to ceasefire violations by Pakistan and ramping up anti-terror operations. “But the development of Jammu is not as much as it should be,” he said. “Discrimination against Jammu hasn’t been done away with.”
Sharma said BJP ministers “are not delivering on what they should” and blamed it on the People’s Democratic Party’s domination of the alliance. He said there was resentment over the BJP playing second fiddle to its ally, even though the party had not completely given up on larger issues such as the revocation of special status laws – Article 35A.
While the common perception in Jammu is that the BJP has surrendered its agenda to the Peoples Democratic Party, many people in the Valley believe it is the other way round.
Dev said these contrasting perceptions indicate the disenchantment of all people with the government. “It’s the failure of both the parties,” he said. “The people in both regions are unhappy with the PDP-BJP government. Completion of works is a distant dream. They [BJP] haven’t been able to project even the concerns of Jammu at the relevant forums. There is a leadership crisis in the BJP.”
Jhalmeria said the BJP has failed to deliver because it is locked in a constant struggle to keep the government going. “If the BJP tries to satisfy people by adhering to their agenda, the PDP is upset,” he said. “If the PDP tries to adhere to their agenda, BJP is upset. The alliance is on tenterhooks, on a double-edged sword. Resentment is only natural if they can’t follow their respective agendas.”
Modi, not BJP
Gupta said the BJP won the last election in Jammu because of the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “People had blind faith in the vision of Modi and they voted in his name, not for the candidates who contested the election,” he said.
For Jhaspal Singh Manhas, a former Congressman who voted for the BJP in 2014, the party’s attitude since has been a “rude shock”. “We haven’t seen our leaders since the election,” he complained. “When we seek to meet them and appraise them of our problems, they refuse to even meet us.”
Manhas added: “Modi is one person. What can he do if the local BJP leaders are not interested in doing anything? Had the local leaders worked they would not have needed to seek votes in the next election. But Jammu will respond to them in the next election. The Congress has frustrated us so much that we had no option but the BJP. But now there seems to be no one we can vote for them.”