The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) held its first ever public rally in Srinagar to kick-start campaign for the upcoming parliamentary polls.
Though there were a couple of hundred BJP supporters in attendance, the rally holds significance because Srinagar is considered to be the stronghold of separatists.
The rally was held amid a massive ongoing crackdown on separatist elements across Kashmir. Scores of people have been detained.
This was also the first rally by any political party since the Election Commission of India announced the seven-phased Lok Sabha polls earlier this month.
The speakers at the rally, including BJP’s in-charge for J&K Avinash Rai Khanna stayed clear of any political speech.
Instead, their focus was on the “developmental programs” launched by the Modi-led government in the state for the past five years.
“It was Modi ji who announced Rs 80,000 crore developmental package for the state. Has it happened ever in the past?” Khanna asked the supporters who shouted “Modi, Modi”.
The party was expecting around 5000 BJP workers and supporters to turn out for the event, said a source. Most of the chairs at the venue were empty, so the organisers simply removed chairs and stacked them behind back rows.
But Khanna praised those who had turned for the rally. “I’m told that this place is called Sher-e-Kashmir Park. Today, there are BJP flags hoisted all around in this park,” Khanna said.
Recalling the last parliament elections, the BJP leader said they had only secured 3000 votes. But, he said, during the last Assembly elections the number of votes the party polled was 50,000.
“Today we have more than 2 lakh members in the Valley. This speaks about the rise of our party in the BJP,” Khanna said.
Khanna said the party fought the last election in Modi’s name only.
“This time we will also highlight the work he has done. In the past five years we have done things the previous governments couldn’t do in the last 60 years,” he said.
Commenting on NC president Farooq Abdullah’s statement that the Balakot strikes were done keeping Lok Sabha elections in mind, Khanna said, “Opposition parties across the country supported the move. It is unfortunate, that he says one thing in Kashmir, another in Jammu and something else in Delhi.”
“This decision (air strikes) was taken in the interest of the country and for the first time army was given a free hand to decide the timing and nature of the retaliation. This is not an election issue. This is a concern of national security and the strength of the nation.”
The senior BJP leader said that they want peace in the country because they believe that development is possible only when there is peace. “We do not do politics on religion.”
Khanna said BJP also wanted Assembly elections to be held simultaneously with LS polls.
“But this was the election commission’s call. BJP has no role in this,” he said.
About the alliance with PDP, he said: “That government was based on a common minimum programme and we tried to make it work with full support from the Centre. But human rights violations continued, a policeman was lynched, even journalists were not spared. We realized it was our moral responsibility to withdraw from the government.”