Hoping to form a "formidable" alliance against mainstream parties in poll-bound Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP seems open to tie-ups with certain separatist groups which are ready to join the electoral fray.
As part of efforts to warm up to various groups, parties and individuals in the valley, senior BJP leader JP Nadda has met separatist-turned-politician Sajjad Gani Lone, chairman of the People's Conference, in Srinagar.
Sources, who confirmed that Nadda, the BJP's national general secretary and Rajya Sabha member, met Lone over the last weekend, said the party was exploring to what extent an electoral understanding
could be reached between them. Lone's outfit, they said, had sent feelers to the BJP that it was not averse to considering an electoral understanding.
People's Conference sources said they have not given up on their separatist ideology and considered Kashmir a disputed territory. Lone, the sources said, has conveyed to the BJP leader that unlike during
Congress regimes, BJP did take some practical steps during its previous tenure, and said that he stood by the need for the ultimate settlement of the Kashmir issue. Lone is understood to have said that he had great regard for former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that he had high hopes from Narendra Modi. While Vajpayee had visited Pakistan twice during his tenure as prime minister, during the decade-long UPA regime, his successor Manmohan Singh did not pay a single visit to the neighbouring country.
Sajjad, the youngest son of the slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone, is influential in north Kashmir's Kupwara district. His brother Bilal is with the Hurriyat Conference. Justifying the BJP's bid to reach out the People's Conference, party sources said Sajjad was now keen on joining mainstream politics. He had fought the 2009 Lok Sabha elections from Baramulla but lost to the National Conference.
The BJP, which has set itself a target of 44 of the 87 seats in the state, is chanting the development and corruption mantra to win over support in the Muslim-dominated valley. The party was banking on what
it sees as disillusionment of the people with the National Conference and the PDP, sources said adding that Modi was seen as a ray of hope among a section of the politically conscious people of the state.
During his visit, Nadda also met a several senior lawyers and members of civil society, they said. Around 20 members from parties like the NC, PDP and Congress joined the BJP in his presence. Among them was Heena Bhat, daughter of former MP Muhammad Shafi Bhat.
In the party's calculations in the light of the Lok Sabha elections, it could count on around 25 assembly seats in Jammu besides two to three in Ladakh. Sources said the party was now focusing on Kashmir, which it has been studying for some time now, and was keeping its options open on tie-ups with "like-minded" smaller players to build a "formidable" alliance. On the contentious article 370 issue, the party is treading cautiously. While the BJP would like to throw open the issue for a debate, it is aware that taking a strident stand on it could come in the way of its attempts at reaching out to forces in the valley.
Sajjad had himself said earlier that though the call for a debate on article 370 was a much toned down version of the BJP, people who talked about its abrogation were not in sync with the constitutional
realities of accession.
But, the BJP in the valley has struck chords which are not in tune with the position of the party in Delhi on certain issues. While the BJP government was reluctant to castigate Israel, the state party took out a rally at Srinagar's lal Chowk in protest against Israel.
It may be recalled that in 1987 when Muslim United Front, largely current Hurriyat, was about to sweep elections in Kashmir, its leaders were in touch with the then BJP leaders in Jammu to form government in Srinagar. But, the elections were heavily rigged changing the course of politics in the state. The MUF got four seats and the BJP two. Experts and analysts see this rigged election as a cause of militancy in Kashmir.