Once non-entity in Kashmir politics, BJP is making inroads in Valley

I am going to contest assembly election from Tra. I have never visited my home (in Tral) in eight years due to the security threat. I met my mother after four years and when my father died in September 2016, I couldn’t attend his funeral due to party work. Being a BJP activist in Kashmir is not an easy task. I have seen worst of the times. But I know I am right
Once non-entity in Kashmir politics, BJP is making inroads in Valley
Representational Pic

Greater Kashmir caught up with five Valley-based BJP leaders and asked them about the party's preparation in the run up to parliament and hopefully Assembly polls this year. This is what they had to say:   

NEELAM GASH

Neelam Gash, the in charge of the BJP's women's wing in Kashmir contested the last assembly election from Zadibal constituency of Srinagar. She joined BJP in 2014 and has been busy building the BJP's support base among Kashmiri women.

Gash says she is ready to fight coming assembly elections. "I am busy round the clock recruiting women in BJP," she tells Greater Kashmir. "The party has assigned me the job and I am doing that honestly."

She says that the BJP has now over 35000 women members in the Valley, including in the militancy-ridden districts of South Kashmir. "In each district we have a district president. Our district women wings have offices adjacent to our district offices," Gash said. "Meetings are held at the offices of our district presidents, where we rally our womenfolk and also solve their issues."

The woman BJP leader said that they don't actively and visibly seek membership of women. "We do small works of women, address their issues, and then they happily join us. In some places, more than a hundred women have joined us at one time," she adds. "We ensure that our members are not publicly identified, lest it create any security problems for them." Gash said.

SOFI YUSUF

Sofi Yusuf is member legislative council and claims he has joined BJP in 1996. Soon after joining the college in Anantnag, Sofi Yousuf was selected as a constable in Jammu and Kashmir Police. But he always harboured political ambitions.

When the PDP-BJP government came to power in 2015, Yusuf was elected to the Upper House of J&K Legislative Assembly, becoming the first BJP legislator from Kashmir.

During his service, he began approaching the leaders of the BJP in Jammu to get membership of the party. This was 1996 when thousands of young men of Yusuf's age were picking up arms to become militants.

During 1999 parliamentary elections, Yusuf was campaigning with Hyder Noorani, the BJP's candidate from Anantnag constituency. When their cavalcade reached Thajiwara, a village in Bijbehara town of south Kashmir, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off. "Our cars were blown up. Hyder Noorani and three of our local workers died on the spot," he recalls. "I was lying in a pool of blood. Militants from a nearby hillock were firing at us."

He contested Assembly elections in 2002, 2008 and 2014, and Lok Sabha polls in 2004, 2009 and 2014 on BJP tickets, but never won. " In coming assembly elections I am contesting from Pahalgam and this time I will win," he said.

The senior BJP leader said that he has met the top leaders of BJP, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani.

ALTAF THAKUR

A post-graduate in Political Science, Altaf Thakur, is BJP's state spokesperson. He is also national council member of the BJP and his journey with the party started during  his university days.

Thakur told Greater Kashmir that he joined the BJP in 2002 when he was pursuing post-graduation in Kashmir University.

He adds that he was abducted by militants and through the years, he has survived three militant attacks but never thought of quitting the party.

A resident of volatile Darsara area of Tral, Thakur was recently elected as a Sarpanch. "I am going to contest assembly election from Tral," he told Greater Kashmir adding that he did not visit his home in eight years due to the security threat in Tral. "I got to meet my mother after four years and when my father died in September 2016, I couldn't attend his funeral due to party work," he says.

But Thakur says he is a proud man and a proud Indian. "Being a BJP activist in Kashmir is not an easy task. I have seen worst of the times. But I know I am right," he says.

MANZOOR BHAT

Manzoor Bhat, a resident of Karan Nagar Srinagar was a reporter before joining BJP in 2018. Bhat is media coordinator and heads the information technology cell of the party. Bhat said that he wants positive coverage of BJP in Kashmir media. "Positive coverage will help building BJP in Kashmir," he said. "I devote all my time to BJP."

For now, Bhat is focused on building a sufficient support base for the BJP among youth to give the party a boost in coming general and Assembly elections. "We hope that the BJP opens its score in the Kashmir Valley in the next election," he says. "And we are confident that our efforts will bear fruit".

NAZIR GILKAR

A software engineer, Gilkar joined BJP last year and recently won municipal elections from Basant Bagh area of Srinagar. He is protocol in charge of BJP in Kashmir. "Whosoever comes from outside I manage him here," he told Greater Kashmir.

Besides, party engagements, Gilkar is all busy for coming elections. "I have decided to contest from Habba Kadal and I am making ground," he said. "I hope I will win."

MUHAMMAD  ANWAR KHAN

Muhammad Anwar Khan is probably the only low-ranking BJP functionary to have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi thrice in the past three years. This year he survived a militant attack on Srinagar outskirts and his guard was injured in the attack.

Khan is currently saffron party's general secretary for Baramulla. A resident of Charibari area of the district, he migrated to Nowgam in Srinagar eight years ago. He has been awarded by the president of India for supplying ration and other essentials to the army during Kargil War.

"I have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi thrice after joining BJP in 2014. I have more connections with BJP in New Delhi than in Kashmir," he told Greater Kashmir.

Khan said he left an engineering job and became an A-class contractor. He owns two factories manufacturing cables, pipes and house wiring. He is also the founder and chairman of Arsh Institute of Health Sciences and Technology, which was inaugurated by BJP leader Rajiv Pratap on 20 January 2017.

"I also run a skill development programme which includes various initiatives of the Centre such as the National Skill Development Mission, National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship 2015, Pradhan MantriKaushalVikasYojana and Skill Loan Scheme," Khan said.

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