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In Kashmir, Vajpayee continues to be BJP's mascot

By Aasha Khosa in New Delhi
December 08, 2008 09:22 IST
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Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the Bharatiya Janata Party's mascot in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley, even as the party is exhorting the people in Jammu to vote en bloc for it to protect the region's interests.

This divergent campaign strategy for the ongoing seven-phase assembly election in the state has been worked out to resolve the party's dilemma in seeking votes in two regions where the BJP's presence invokes opposite feelings among the voters.

The party has emerged as a force to reckon with in the Jammu region after the recent agitation over the Amarnath land transfer, while in Kashmir, it is perceived to be a 'Hindutva' party and blamed for leading the agitation against Kashmir's interests.

However, as the party had decided to field candidates from most of the 87 Assembly constituencies in the state, Vajpayee -- who is now rarely seen in public -- was chosen as the BJP's Kashmir-friendly face.

"It was time to remind the people in Kashmir about Vajpayee's contribution in initiating the peace process with Pakistan. The party wants to take credit for the bus service and trade happening across the Line of Control. The party argues that it should not be seen as an anti-Kashmiri entity," explain BJP leaders.

The party has set up billboards and posters with Vajpayee's pictures across the Valley.

To the surprise of its own leaders in Delhi, not only was there a beeline of candidates for contesting from all the Valley's constituencies, but the candidates could campaign freely and even organise public rallies where BJP's national vice-president Shanta Kumar, former Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain and  national executive member R P Singh addressed the people.

From the BJP's perspective, December 24, the last phase of the Assembly polls, is the most important day as both Jammu and Srinagar districts would go to the polls that day.

However, the party is unlikely to have a smooth sailing in Jammu where its candidates are locked in multi-corner contests with candidates from the Congress, National Conference, Bahujan Samaj Party, People's Democratic Party and the Panthers' Party. The fear that this division in votes would harm the BJP's prospects has forced the party's national leaders to invoke the slogan of Jammu's unity, which, in fact, is a euphemism for 'assertion against Kashmiri leadership of the state'.

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Aasha Khosa in New Delhi
Source: source