NEW DELHI: The BJP might or might not achieve its Mission 44+ ---all calculations currently deny the possibility---but by setting this goal it can certainly emerge from the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir as the single largest party.

In a determined effort to instal its own chief minister in the state, the BJP is working at different levels, keeping all fingers crossed that the Kashmiris will continue with the boycott of the polls in the Valley and stay at home on polling day. The RSS through its now BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, and of course the workaholic BJP President Amit Shah, has been working hard to consolidate and polarise the vote on religious lines in its favour.

One of the main campaign points that it has spread through Jammu and Ladakh is that if it comes to power the state will have its first non-Muslim chief minister. And that this will be a major nail in the coffin of the separatist viewpoint, Pakistan’s overt and covert tactics, and a big impetus for “nationalist” politics in the sensitive border state. This has been generating considerable enthusiasm in the non-Valley regions of the state, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s several visits having its own impact.

A second thrust of the campaign is to focus on the areas where it has failed to have an impact in the past. One of these is the Chenab Valley with six Assembly constituencies, including Doda, Kishtwar, Banihal, Bhaderwah,Ramban,and Inderwal. It is a Muslim dominated area but in several constituencies the ratio is very narrow. The BJP is optimist the consolidation of the non-Muslim vote in these constituencies will pay dividends, particularly with low polling and division of votes amongst the Muslims in favour of the Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party and of course the National Conference. This will weaken the Muslim vote to a point where the BJP is optimistic of gaining at least three seats from the six as a result of the opposite polarisation. At least 66 candidates, including several Independents, have filed their nominations for these six Assembly constituencies with the Muslim vote expected to be sharply divided as a result. “I am sure people of Chenab Valley will display desired unity and strength to march on the journey of politico-economic empowerment and progress”, Azad said during the current campaign.

The Kashmir Valley thus assumes considerable importance for the BJP that is looking to pick up every seat it can possibly get. A counter campaign by some young people in the Valley urging the residents to vote and prevent the BJP from opening its account in Kashmir does not seem to have had an impact. The Citizen was told by several Kashmiris on the phone that there was no question of voting, and that “we are indifferent to who wins, the BJP or the People’s Democratic Party.” And as a shop owner Mir said, “ at the end PDP will form the government with the BJP so why should we be concerned.”

The BJP has wooed over Peoples Conference leader Sajjad Lone who is now fairly open about his understanding with the Delhi ruling party. The BJP has been speaking to individual leaders and mopping up a possible post poll alliance to help it form the government if it comes within shooting distance. Congress leaders are also reported to be in touch with the BJP with two candidates being Usman Majid from Bandipora and surrendered militant Kuka Parrays son Imtiaz Parray who is contesting the election from Somawar. Both are expected to be defeated but are also said to be in close touch with the BJP.

In the Valley the BJP is also closely looking at some seats with a fairly sizeable Kashmiri Pandit population. More so, as in face of a boycott call the Kashmiris are being expected to stay home which will add to the grist of the non-Muslim voter strength in some of these constituencies like Amira Kadal where the effort will be to get them all to cast their ballot.

The state has 87 seats hence the 44 required to form the government. The PDP is expected to do very well in the Kashmir Valley that has 46 seats, Jammu 37 and four from Ladakh. It expects to pick up the majority of the Valley seats with the National Conference and the Congress party facing a virtual wipe out. The PDP, however, is unlikely to win seats outside the Valley although it could give itself a surprise by winning a couple of seats in the Chenab region.

The BJP has fielded ten Muslims and four Kashmiri Pandits. It expects to build on its Lok Sabha gains in Jammu and Ladakh and add some seats from the Valley. However, the most optimistic assessments at the moment do not give the party more than 30 seats in the state, that will keep it well short of the requisite majority, but still in place as the single largest party with the wherewithal to form the government.