Anantnag’s BJP candidate says Kashmiri students ‘deserved’ to be attacked after Pulwama attack

By Auqib Javeed and Murtaza Ali,

There is hardly a part of the country right now that has not been gripped by the election fever. Across the nation, rallies, big and small, are taking place the ruling party BJP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure a return to the centre.

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The mood, however, is slightly different in what is probably India’s most conflict-torn constituency, Anantnag. And here, the BJP has nominated Sofi Yousuf, a former MLA, who has been in the party since the mid-90s. Anantnag has seen about 80 civilian deaths at the hands of security forces in 2018.

The mood of the common people can be understood from the fact that while BJP organises massive rallies across the nation witnessed by tens of thousands of people, the local BJP unit meeting can be accommodated in the front porch of a small building. Small BJP flags adorn the walls, a rare display of a party that rarely if ever, bags a substantial number of votes in the region in the state and Lok Sabha elections. In 2014 elections, for example, the party got less than 1,500 votes in this region.

But that has not stopped them from hoping. The BJP leaders here believe that the people in this region, who come out in thousands to show their love for militants killed in the encounter, would vote for a party that more than anyone epitomises an anti-Kashmiri attitude in this region.

And the BJP attitude is aptly represented by Sofi Yousuf. Ask him about the condition in the region, and he blames the National Conference, the Congress and the Peoples’ Democratic Party. Ask him why people have protested against the possible tinkering with Article 35 and Article 370, and he blames it on NC, PDP, and the separatists. Yousuf repeats a common narrative parroted by many leaders from mainstream parties: people do not want to talk about the Kashmir conflict, they just want peace and development. His party takes credit for the development of roads and colleges in the areas but washes their hands off any violence in the region. He blames the protests on ‘gun culture’, although he is unable to support his arguments.

 But his best BJP defence comes when asked about the follow-up to Pulwama attack when a number of Kashmiri students and traders were targeted by angry mobs across the nation. In this interview with, he says that the Kashmiri students were celebrating the attack and shouting Pakistan Zindabad slogans and that the attack was a result of ‘people’s emotions.’ He also believes that incidents of mob lynching of Muslims in the country, in which over 40 people have been killed including in Jammu, were vastly exaggerated by the media. Only time will tell if the BJP will win in this region, but given that its members hid their faces when the media showed up at their party meeting a few weeks ago, a victory seems unlikely.