Opinion The Lead

For Jammu party hoppers, BJP no more a favourite destination

BJP received Rs 614 crore as donations in 2021-22, Congress got Rs 95 crore
As long as regional leaders were joining the Apni Party, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Democratic Progressive Azad Party, the BJP stood to gain. Now since they are returning from their short pilgrimages, the BJP looks worried
For Jammu party hoppers, BJP no more a favourite destination

Jammu: Vice presidents of two regional political parties -an old and a new -two former ministers and half a dozen legislators in Jammu region are currently in the departure lounges of their respective parties, but none of them is taking a flight to Bhartiya Janta Party.

The Jammu region is poised to witness a significant shift in the organisational politics as soon there are any credible indicators for a timeline to Assembly elections. In an advance departure, on Monday, a former minister, three former legislators and a DDC member are joining the Congress party in Delhi. This is a small section which has taken an early decision. Even more influential faces with high winning potential are exiting their current parties as they wait for the appropriate time, multiple sources suggest.

Party hopping has been a hallmark of politics in Jammu and Kashmir since early 1950s and has never seen a low over the decades. However, this restless switching over was accelerated to unprecedented speeds and numbers after the fall of last elected government in June 2018. National Conference was the popular destination till February-March 2019 as many had expected Assembly elections happening together with the Lok Sabha polls of that year.

National Conference coming to power on its own strength was a foregone conclusion even among the party’s critics at that time, but then everything changed. In a recent interview, Omar Abdullah also remarked that in early 2019 it had become unmanageable for him to attend the visiting bureaucrats as they saw him returning as Chief Minister soon.

The events of August 5, 2019, brought regular mainstream politics to a standstill until March 2020 when Peoples Democratic Party deserter Altaf Bukhari drove close to two dozen former ministers and legislators mainly from his own former party and the Congress to his newly floated Apni Party. The District Development Council elections later same year nearly normalised the politics with leaders and workers switching in hoards.

While in Kashmir most deserters rushed to the Apni Party and the Peoples Conference, in Jammu the BJP remained a popular destination. Put together, the BJP, the Apni Party, the Peoples Conference and later Ghulam Nabi Azad’s DPAP were seen as best parties to join in the post ‘abrogation’ political environment.

The BJP, AP, PC and the DPAP grew exponentially mainly at the cost of Peoples Democratic Party and the Congress. National Conference also suffered some losses, but the party was able to manage its organisational and ideological core.

The National Conference’s highest setback was in October 2021 when its senior leaders Surjeet Singh Slathia and Devender Singh Rana joined the BJP. They joined in Delhi in presence of a three union ministers and later got opportunity to call on home minister Amit Shah as the BJP wanted to showcase their joining as a big catch. Sources in the National Conference say and Omar Abdullah himself admits that he continues to feel hurt, at personal level, on departure of Devender Singh Rana to BJP.

Since 2020, it has been common to hear in the political circles that while joining AP, PC, DPAP could be a safe option in the ‘current political environment’, but joining BJP is always rewarding. Most BJP leaders and many from the other three parties are known to be enjoying privileges of government bungalows, security personnel, official cars and petrol.

So, who has joined BJP?

Almost once in two to three weeks Tarun Chugh, BJP’s national general secretary in-charge Jammu and Kashmir affairs, takes a flight to Jammu to welcome a bunch of new entrants in the party. Chugh does not come for all joining events. Some happen at the level of state president Ravinder Raina and general secretary (organisation) Ashok Kaul.

The frequency and pomp of new joining events would suggest that BJP has taken everyone in leaving hardly anyone for the other parties to operate. However, on a closer analysis it emerges that most of the new entrants to BJP are either neo political upstarts, a handful of DDC and BDC members, retired officials, figures from business and trade organisations and other notable social figures who may be respectable people but very few of them have potential to pull votes.

In 2014 elections, BJP had won 25 of the 37 seats in Jammu region. Of the 12 remaining winners, eleven have changed parties since then and only three of them have come to the BJP. On the other hand, two of BJP’s winners, the flamboyant Choudhary Lal Singh and Gagan Bhagat, later left the party with former floating his own outfit and the latter joining National Conference. Of the seven former MLAs from the class of 2014 in Jammu region, five joined Apni Party and two DPAP.

Besides Devender Singh Rana and Surjeet Singh Slathia, the other notable leaders who joined BJP since 2019 are -former minister Sham Lal Sharma, Ajatshatru Singh, Pawan Kumar Gupta and former legislators Kamal Verma, Balwant Singh Mankotia, Charanjit Singh and Vikramaditya Singh.

Where are the hoppers going?

At least three surveyors, this writer spoke to over last ten months, have found that BJP’s popularity in Jammu region is not what is being made out by the party through its media blitz. The critical question the surveyors ask is ‘who is gaining at the BJP’s cost?’ There is no single party to be able to consolidate gains in the region. Until recently the BJP’s interest had an inherent protection in the growth of Apni Party and Democratic Progressive Azad Party with clear division of non-BJP political base. However, even as elections are still nowhere in sight, these hoppers have already started returning from their pilgrimage to the AP, AAP and DPAP. The Congress is gaining at no major effort. Sources say another cohort is soon headed to the Congress. Key regional faces, including former Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, who had joined DPAP, have already returned to the Congress. The National Conference is also set to be a potential beneficiary, but it entirely depends on how soon the possibility of elections could finally become real.

Suffering from a two-fold problem, the BJP may directly face some desertions closer to the elections. One of the crises the BJP has to deal with is the problem of plenty. There are more than two ambitious contenders in each constituency the BJP holds some potential. There are more people in the BJP affiliated to ambition than the ideology. The other crisis that the party suffers from is ‘anti-incumbency’ factor. The August 5, 2019, was celebrated in the BJP constituency of Jammu essentially as an epoch moment causing shift of power from Kashmir to Jammu. In the initial few months, Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu entertained BJP, but under Manoj Sinha the Raj Bhawan has not allowed any impression of remote-controlled governance. Senior BJP leader Sham Lal Sharma, who was a firebrand Minister in NC-Congress coalition, said in a recent interview that harsh decisions of the administration have cost BJP dearly as people refuse to see the party as separate from the government. This view was further reinforced last month when a key BJP leader Surinder Choudhary quit to join National Conference. As a PDP candidate in 2014, Choudhary was runner up to BJP’s Ravinder Raina. In the initial three years since 2019 when leaders quit different parties to join AP, AAP or DPAP, the BJP stood to gain. Now, when several leaders are headed to the Congress and the National Conference, the party looks worried. This issue came up for discussion in a marathon brainstorming session chaired by general secretary Tarun Chugh in Jammu recently.



The Dispatch is present across a number of social media platforms. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for exciting videos; join us on Facebook, Intagram and Twitter for quick updates and discussions. We are also available on the Telegram. Follow us on Pinterest for thousands of pictures and graphics. We care to respond to text messages on WhatsApp at 8082480136 [No calls accepted]. To contribute an article or pitch a story idea, write to us at [email protected] |Click to know more about The Dispatch, our standards and policies   
For Jammu party hoppers, BJP no more a favourite destination

About the author

Avatar photo

Zafar Choudhary

A journalist since 1999, Zafar Choudhary is also a policy analyst and author. An alumni of the London School of Economics, his book ‘Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu’ addresses a critical gap in scholarship on Kashmir. Zafar is founder and editor of The Dispatch