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J&K Elections: AAP’s Debut Plan in Jammu Creates a Flutter in Local Political Circles

There is talk of an ‘AAP wave’ building up, but some question Arvind Kejriwal’s stance on abrogation of Article 370, while some others feel it may pose a serious challenge to BJP in Jammu.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), led by Arvind Kejriwal and his companions, is emerging as one of the most attention-grabbing parties after its spectacular win in Delhi and Punjab. Its recent crushing win in the Punjab Assembly elections saw it winning 92 out of 117 seats and becoming the only party to have won these many seats in Punjab since 1977.

After this remarkable victory, AAP is now eyeing several states, such as Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where elections are due to be held later this year. It is trying to project itself as a better alternative than the Congress.

Another region where AAP has started making a bid is the new Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, where elections to a new Assembly are expected in October-November.

In Delhi and Punjab, AAP won elections mainly due the welfare measures it has taken in the national capital, such as distributing free electricity, improving water supply as well as healthcare facilities.

But the challenges for the Kejriwal-led AAP in the strife-ridden J&K are many and of an altogether different nature. People have already started asking questions to the AAP leadership about what will be their election manifesto for Jammu and Kashmir.

A known Jammu-based social activist, Sunil Dimple, told NewsClick that there is a strong buzz since the past few months that AAP is breaking some new ground in Jammu for the upcoming elections, but this doesn’t seem true.

"Do you think the people of Jammu and Kashmir have forgotten what Kejriwal did on August 5, 2019?” he said.

In fact, Dimple raised some serious concerns, such as AAP has no roadmap or vision for J&K, adding that he was surprised that party leaders were claiming that there is an ‘AAP wave’ in Jammu.

"Yes, a few people and leaders have joined them but that doesn't mean AAP is gaining a stronghold in Jammu because it is the people who will vote, not leaders. People will decide whose wave it is," he said.

Dimple said before making his way to J&K, Kejriwal should apologise publicly to the people of J&K for his August 2019 stand (wherein he has backed the Centre’s move to abrogate Article 370).

"Some people are saying that AAP will follow the Delhi model in J&K but we have seen these models. Earlier, we saw the Gujarat model, but nothing changed for the people of J&K. It's time for us to present the J&K model," Dimple said. 

The majority of people in J&K hold a grudge against the AAP supremo who voted in favour of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A on August August 5, 2019 when the Narendra Modi government read down J&K's special status and bifurcated the state into Union territories.

Regional parties in J&K have been pointing this out time and again and it surely begs the question whether AAP will change its stance on Article 370 and 35-A or will continue to support it.

Mehraj Malik, a District Development Council (DDC) member of the AAP in J&K had put up a post on his social media handle that read: "For many days, questions have been circulating on social media from J&K's regional parties and Congress party about our stand on 370 and 35A.

The vision of the Aam Aadmi Party is very clear. We can't deceive the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I don’t want to mislead people by showing a movie like Kashmir Files or doing Hindu-Muslim politics.''

Mehraj said the Delhi Model of administration will be followed in Jammu and claimed that people were joining the party for the said reason.

However, many in the region contend that AAP will face several challenges in J&K and one of them is that people, especially in the Kashmir region, have always voted for regional parties and ignored national-level parties.

However, in the Jammu region, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won the majority seats since the past two decades.

Political pundits believe that it will be an uphill task for AAP to gain support among voters of both regions. Especially at a time when there are allegations that in Punjab, it is Kejriwal who is running the Punjab government from Delhi.

But AAP is making some inroads in Jammu, as per Sohail Kazmi, a Jammu-based journalist. "People in Jammu and Kashmir are fed up with dynastic politics, which has failed to win the confidence of people. Congress, National Conference and People's Democratic Party are divided houses. The Aam Aadmi Party's progress report is going well in Jammu and it may pose a challenge to BJP in the coming election", he told NewsClick.

More Joining AAP

On April 9, 2022, two former MLAs of J&K Panthers Party, Balwant Singh Mankotia and Yashpal Kundal, followed by several prominent leaders joined AAP at its New Delhi headquarters amid slogans of “Jammu Kashmir Ki Majboori Hain, Kejriwal Zaroori Hain”. (Kejriwal is important for J&K).

Some key local figures who joined APP in Delhi are Yash Paul Kundal, ex-legislator, Balwant Singh Mankotia, DDC membe, Taranjit Singh Tony and former Congress leader Surinder Singh Shingari, and

Balwant Singh Tony, who had defeated former BJP minister Sham Lal Choudhary in the DDC election held in 2020.

Sources told NewsClick that several former ministers, legislators, retired bureaucrats, and businessmen are in touch with AAP leadership and could join the party in the coming days.

The joining of these leaders is seen as a shot in the arm for AAP which is working with increased focus to strengthen its base in J&K, with an eye on the keeping eye on the Assembly elections expected to take place after the ongoing delimitation exercise.

The Modi-led government is, however, claiming that AAP’s entry in J&K wouldn’t have any impact on BJP’s electoral prospects. Sources in the party also feel that delaying elections could prove disadvantageous to it.

According to political experts, it would be interesting to see if AAP is able to dent the electoral prospects of BJP in its stronghold, Jammu.

The Punjab Effect?

Shrugging off any AAP threat, BJP spokesman Abhijeet Jasrotia, told NewsClick that their party had a strong foothold in the Jammu region. However, some “opportunistic leaders here and there are changing parties.”

 "I don't feel AAP will gain ground here. No doubt AAP won the election in Punjab by a huge margin, but it will never affect the politics of Jammu and Kashmir altogether," he added.

Former cabinet Minister, and the recently founded Apni Party's main constituent, Ghulam Hassan Mir, told NewsClick that the recent result of the Punjab election would change the political discourse in J&K.

He said undoubtedly BJP had a strong position in Hindu-dominated regions of Jammu while the NC, PDP and Congress had a strong grip over Muslim-dominated regions of Jammu. "However, with the emergence of AAP in BJP's stronghold Jammu, things are getting interesting. Since Congress and NC are in doldrums, they will be badly affected in Jammu," Hassan Mir said.

Political analyst Zafar Choudhary said several political leaders were pointing at the Delimitation Commission reports and targeting BJP for keep its own interests in mind.

"I reviewed the report of the Delimitation Commission which is result-oriented for J&K. How will it help BJP?", he said.

Choudhary, too, believes that AAP will gain a foothold in Jammu NC and Congress are losing relevance on the ground. And people are fed up with their dynastic politics. "It is very clear now that AAP is emerging as an important stakeholder in Jammu, which is BJP's region," he said. 

On being asked if there is any chance of an alliance between PAGD (Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration – a conglomeration of J&K’s regional parties, including the Left) and AAP to stop BJP's influence in Jammu, Choudhary said PAGD was “already in collapse mode. If this alliance was made years ago, they could have saved Article 370 stopped BJP's entry into J&K.”

AAP stance

According to AAP, 3.70 lakh people have joined them since they formed the government in Punjab.

A top leader of AAP in Kashmir, who did not wished to be named, told the NewsClick that Kejriwal will soon visit Jammu and Kashmir, adding that once he visits here, the roadmap of AAP will be strengthened to counter BJP's “ill designs.”

Amid all this speculation, many people believe that it is BJP that is benefiting from the emergence of  AAP in Jammu because they believe that a United PAGD could have posed a better challenge to BJP, but with AAP's emergence, anti-BJP votes will get split.

However, a Jammu University student, on the condition of anonymity, said there was no reason for people to betray BJP, especially in the Jammu division, because it did what it had promised during election time. “People voted for them for those reasons,” he said, adding that there is no way they will vote for any other party like AAP or Apni Party.”

"I believe that it's just a media narrative by a few people that there is an AAP wave in Jammu. Earlier we saw Apni Party ‘wave’ as well but look at the results of the recently held DDC, where people voted with the same energy for BJP as they did during the Assembly polls," he said.

Rajat Kumar, 25, a research scholar at the University of Jammu, said development of J&K was a dire necessity and people should not cast their votes based on religion or caste. 

"As a common person, I wish for a better government that is expected to work for the welfare of the common people. People shouldn't vote in the name of Ram and Rahim," he added.

NewsClick did a random sampling of around 30 people and tried to know their opinion regarding the ongoing political development in J&K.

The majority of the people still showed faith in NC, the oldest party of J&K, while youngsters believed that AAP was the best solution for J&K politics, while some said they had hope in the Modi-led government.

Tanveer Tantray of the PDP said Jammu and Kashmir is not like Punjab, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. “Here the sentiments of people are deeply attached with Article 370 and 35A,” he added.

There is no doubt that the ruling BJP had scrapped Art 370, but people should not forget AAP’s stand which was the first party to vote in favour of the abrogation.

"AAP is misleading the people here with the Delhi Model, in which they claim free electricity and free water will be given once they form the government. It is because of their election manifesto that people are getting trapped. But they won't be successful here, mostly people believe in regional parties here," he added.

Mubashir Naik and Irshad Hussain are independent journalists based in Jammu and Kashmir. They tweet at @Irshad55hussain  @sule_khaak.

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