For the Maharashtra Polls, BJP's Big Obsession Has Been ... Article 370

From Akola to Kolhapur, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the chief minister have spoken so much about Kashmir that one might be forgiven for thinking the election is being held there.

Pune: On October 8, Amit Shah addressed a large gathering at Savargaon Ghat in Beed and praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the dilution of Article 370. He said with the move, Modi had succeeded in integrating Jammu and Kashmir with India. The visual and aural symbolism at the rally was also all about Article 370. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader was welcomed with 370 cannon shots being fired in the air. At the same time, 370 flags were waved.

While Marathwada is facing a severe drought, Shah chose not to speak about it. Instead, he asked the people to back Modi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status by voting for the BJP.

On October 10, speaking at Kolhapur, the Union home minister again emphasised the BJP’s decision on Article 370 and asked people to vote on the issue. A month ago, Kolhapur and Sangli faced massive floods and the people of the region are still suffering because of it. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadanavis, who was campaigning during the time of the floods, initially ignored the situation. He only visited the area when the flood situation worsened.

In the Kothrud constituency, when Chandrakant Patil, president of the Maharashtra BJP, was chosen over sitting MLA Medha Kulkarni, he was criticised by BJP workers and also on social media. He then began campaigning on Article 370, deploying the BJP MP from Ladakh, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, to address rallies speaking on the same issue.

On October 13, speaking at Jalgaon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Congress and the NCP over the dilution of Article 370. He dared the opposition to declare in their manifesto that they will restore the provisions which gave special status to J&K. A major part of his speech was dedicated to Article 370 and Kashmir.

Speaking at an election rally in Akola, on October 16, Modi criticised NCP president Sharad Pawar and the Congress. Without naming anyone in particular, he said, “They ask shamelessly, what is the relation of Article 370 and Kashmir to Maharashtra, I say ‘Dub Maro, Dub Maro’ [‘Go drown yourselves’”. He then made an emotional appeal, saying, “I salute those Maharashtrian soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives in Kashmir.”

Responding to Modi’s jibe, Pawar said there was no need to talk about bringing back the controversial provision. Addressing a rally in Nashik, the NCP chief questioned why the prime ministrr was daring opposition leaders to bring back Article 370 when most parties had supported its dilution in parliament.

BJP leaders Radhkrishna Vikhe Patil, Udayanraje Bhosale also spoke about Article 370.

In rally after rally, Kashmir and the larger sentiments of nationalism have served as a foil for the ruling party to avoid answering questions about its record o governance in Maharashtra. During a recent Fadnavis rally, when a farmer asked him about the issue of loan waivers. the chief minister humiliated him and called him a “Congress-NCP agent”. The farmer was evicted while the CM s started shouting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’.

Vinay Hardikar a journalist and political analyst, told The Wire that the RSS’s keywords for the campaign are internal security, external threats and Hindu. “Narendra Modi has the same RSS DNA and he speaks the same pracharak language,” he said.

By invoking this language in its election propaganda , the BJP has been able to avoid a debate about Fadnavis’s performance over the past five years. Issues such as drought, floods, farmers’ suicides, the economic slowdown, environmental issues and the recent human tragedy that the closure of the PMC Bank has caused to depositors in the state were absent from the campaign.

Political analyst Vishwambhar Choudhari, who is closely observing the performance of the Fadanvis government, told The Wire that the BJP is focusing on Article 370 because it has failed on all fronts.

Former chief Minister of Maharashtra and senior congress leader Prithviraj Chavan said to The Wire, “It is a fact that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have set the agenda of Article 370 because they don’t have answers about economic growth, unemployment and issues of bread and butter. They had made issue of Pulwama in the Lok Sabha elections and now they are trying to encash the Kashmir issue, which is sub judice. They keep talking and the media picks it up but we are emphasising the basic issues.”

Congress leaders have tried to steer the debate towards the government’s economic record, with little success. At a press conference in Mumbai, party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said, “PM Modi is talking about Article 370 but we will talk about 70… Onions are being sold above Rs 70 per kg. Let them talk about Article 370 but we will talk about 70.”

The fact that Shergill said this towards the fag end of the campaign suggests it is the BJP’s messaging which is likely to have had the greatest impact.

Senior journalist Arun Khore told The Wire that the BJP has spread the illusion that the party won over Kashmir through the scrapping of Article 370 and connected the issue to an emotional nationalism. Because of some economic and political compulsions, the media is also carrying the same news, which is dangerous to democracy.”