Amid recruitment scams and rising power bills, BJP hopes to hold on to its Jammu stronghold

The rise in the popularity of the BJP candidate, Jugal Kishore Sharma, who is seeking a third term, has matched the rising trajectory of the party since 2014 nationally

April 20, 2024 10:42 pm | Updated April 21, 2024 01:04 am IST - JAMMU

 Students participate in a voting awareness program, in Jammu, on April 20, 2024.

Students participate in a voting awareness program, in Jammu, on April 20, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Jammu Lok Sabha seat mainly comprises the plains and the Hindu-majority belt in Samba, Reasi and Jammu districts of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a battle of prestige for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is pitted against the INDIA bloc, with the regional parties, including the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) weighing in for the Congress’ candidate.

The rise in the popularity of the BJP candidate, Jugal Kishore Sharma, who is seeking a third term, has matched the rising trajectory of the party since 2014 nationally. Mr. Sharma’s winning margins in the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections are indicative of the BJP’s strong grip over the region. The 2014 Jammu Lok Sabha seat was won by a margin of 2.57 lakh votes, and in 2019, Mr. Sharma won by a margin of 3.02 lakh votes. The BJP won the Jammu seat for the first time in 1998, and since then, Mr. Sharma has managed to win it twice.

This year, the BJP galvanised support on the streets in the Hindu-majority Jammu district. Jammu is known as the ‘city of temples’, and a show of strength in the run-up to the consecration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya countered the growing resentment in the area’s business community over the cancellation of the annual shifting of the capital to Jammu, known as the ‘Durbar move’, which has significantly impacted businesses in the winter months.

Jammu has also been marred by anti-government protests in the past three years, which dented the BJP’s image. There were protests by job aspirants after at least three recruitment lists came under the scanner for reported scams. Rising electricity charges and the installation of faulty smart meters also sparked protests. 

However, the BJP’s move to set up a Tirupati Balaji temple amid the scenic Shivalik forests in Majeen, Jammu, and running direct fast trains to Katra, which houses the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, won back Hindu votes. “We have done away with the frisking of devotees at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. People can fearlessly visit the temple now,” Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said at an election rally in the region recently.

BJP State president Ravinder Raina is confident of a “big victory from the Jammu division”, which comprises two of the total of five Lok Sabha seats in J&K. “Given the enthusiasm of voters and the turnout in Udhampur-Doda on April 19, the BJP will win the election with a huge margin on both the seats,” Mr. Raina said.

The Congress has remained the oldest national party in Jammu since 1962, sending a Member of Parliament nine times since then. The party’s vote share increased in the 2019 Lok Sabha seats by about 5% to 28.38%. Congress candidate Raman Bhalla hopes to expand the vote base this time with the help of coalition partners NC and PDP. Mr. Bhalla, an old hand in the party, also draws strength from the impact of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in 2022, which managed to attract crowds in Samba and Jammu districts despite being a BJP stronghold. The party has decided to contest the election with a campaign focused on governance issues, maintaining a meaningful distance from engaging in an ideological battle with the BJP.  

“Jammu has seen a rise in drug abuse. The promised road accessibility is nowhere to see. The BJP promised to open a stream of money for Jammu. Why are the contractors without payment for the past three years then? The party that cannot do justice needs to be changed,” Mr. Bhalla said. 

There are 22 candidates in the fray but the contest is principally between the two parties.

About 17.67 lakh votes will decide the fate of the candidates. With 18 Assembly constituencies, the Jammu parliamentary seat has 9.15 lakh male and 8.52 lakh female voters. 

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