How BJP Plans To Win In Kashmir's Sopore, Where Voters Don't Turn Up

2 September 2014
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: In its mission to win over 44 seats in the Kashmir, the BJP has a special focus on five seats, all located in the Kashmir valley, where it has never won before. The party's activists are focusing on the Amira Kadal and Habba Kadal seats in Srinagar, Sopore in Baramulla, and the Anantnag and Tral seats in south Kashmir, where Muslims voters, who are in the majority, have preferred to adhere to boycott calls from separatists. BJP activists are presently involved in a massive voter-registration drive for members of the Kashmiri Pandit community throughout the country. Of the five seats where the community once formed the majority, the party will pitch hard for the seat of Sopore. However, Sopore is also a town which has opposed everything that the BJP stands for. And come elections, apart from security personnel, no one dares to venture out on the streets, let alone vote. It's something the BJP will be hoping will be repeated in the assembly elections to be held later this year. In the last Parliamentary elections, out of the 1052 votes polled in Sopore incumbent PDP MP Muzaffar Hussain Beig received 535 votes, the NC candidate got 262, the BJP got 12, and the BSP got 2. The overall voter percentage was 1.02 percent with most of these votes being polled in remote corners of Sopore; the town witnessed almost zero percent voting. It's these figures that might have encouraged the BJP activists, who are presently visiting every single Kashmiri Pandit voter to get them to register, and they would like to make sure those registered turn out to vote on election day. Presently there are over 1200 voters registered by the party from the community in Sopore, a figure that is likely to double in the coming days. To ensure that happens, sources say BJP activists from the community are reviving memories of an emotional tale from 1990 while seeking votes for the party. On 7 May, 1990 at 10:30 pm, around twenty armed militants turned up at the house of Professor Kundan Lal Ganjoo in the Badshah Masjid area of Batpora, Sopore. The Ganjoos were dragged out, their Muslim neighbours locked from outside to prevent them from intervening, and the family was taken to the nearby Jehlum river. Professor Ganjoo was shot, his wife was kidnapped and his nephew was thrown into the river, but managed to survive. The protests over the killing of Professor Ganjoo and the kidnapping of Pranaji, Ganjoo's wife, was perhaps the last time there was public outcry in Sopore over the treatment of a Kashmiri Pandit family. According to unconfirmed reports, Ganjoo's abducted wife Pranaji was then killed, but her dead body was never found. The incident was the first killing of any Kashmiri Pandit in Sopore town but was a major factor in the migration of members of the Pandit community from the town that is 55 kilometres away from Srinagar. Sopore gradually became the hub of militancy in the valley and a bastion of pro-Pakistan Jamat-e-Islami. Before the insurgency erupted Separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani, represented Sopore three times in legislative assembly. In fact he remains the elected leader to garner the highest number of votes in the history of town. Almost all the major militant organisations in Kashmir has some connection with Sopore, and the first major pro-Pakistan militant outfit to set up base there was the Tehreek-e-Jihad-e-Islami, that was led by Abdul Majid Dar. For some time the town remained out-of-bounds for security forces, until 1993 when the army launched one of the biggest combing operation in Kashmir valley. Until then the writ of Akbar Bhai, an Afghan national who had fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, was obeyed in the town. The Afghan militant was killed on 7 August, 1993. At the time , the army had closed down the town, set up bunkers, and established a permanent foothold in Sopore. Parts of the town was also burnt down four times in the early days of militancy. On 19 September, 1990 the BSF set an entire neighborhood in Aarmpora on fire after militants attacked a BSF convoy. Eighty-three houses and 50 shops were gutted in the fire, while three civilians were killed in BSF firing. But the worst was yet to come. On 6 January, 1993 militants killed a BSF jawan in the main market of Sopore. In retaliation, BSF personnel opened fire and almost destroyed the town by setting fire to property. This was the worst incident of violence in town, in which 53 civilians were killed. The government ordered a CBI inquiry, but the the findings are yet to be made public. During those years militants were flushed out, but the sentiment of separatism remained alive for several years despite it being a strategic town. Excesses committed by security forces are still fresh in the minds of people, and is a big reason why they stay away from the polls. The BJP is hoping that in the coming elections the polling percentage of Muslims in the town will remain low as a call for boycotting the polls is inevitable. And the party believes that votes from the Kashmiri Pandit community can help it secure this seat. If BJP manages to motivate nearly all Pandit voters to come out and vote on the election day, Sopore could well be represented for the first time by a BJP MLA. And it might be the only seat it might be able to win in the Kashmir valley.