Jammu: With its roots in the Kashmir Valley, main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is slowly spreading its branches in the Jammu region. Its patron Mufti Mohmmad Sayeed calls it the "party of hope".
At a time when the traditional political forces of Jammu, like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have restricted their activities to holding press conferences and issuing releases, the PDP called its supporters to the streets on the issue of price rise and resolution of the Kashmir problem.
The April 26 demonstrations in all the 10 district headquarters of the Jammu region - in which PDP supporters took part in hundreds - surprised the residents of Jammu, as also the party itself. The PDP now has an effective membership of 13,000 active members in Jammu city alone.
Although the PDP had tried to make inroads into the Jammu region when it was in power for three years between 2002 and 2005, the party spoilt its chances when it spoke of "Muslim Kashmir versus Hindu India" during the Amarnath land row in 2008.
The party`s office was attacked several times by protestors and the effigies of party leaders - patron Mufti Sayeed and his daughter and party president Mehbooba Mufti - were burnt on the streets of Jammu by demonstrators, who were seeking restoration of 100 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. The PDP was against the restoration.
Another irritant for the people of Jammu was the party symbol of pen and inkpot inscribed on a green flag, as it was the symbol of the Muslim United Front (MUF) - the original version of the Hurriyat Conference in pre-militancy days in the 1980s.
"Things have changed, people have understood what we did for the people of all the three regions (Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir) during our rule and how we project their issues. That`s why they are turning to us," Mehbooba Mufti told IANS.
The PDP, which was formed in July 1999, could not win even a single seat from the region in the 2002 assembly elections, but won two seats in the 2008 assembly polls.
In all, the party has 21 seats in the 87-member assembly, five up from 16 of 2002.
Jammu, which has a 198-km international border with Pakistan and about a 250-km Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, has been the worst sufferer in the exchange of gunfire between Indian and Pakistani armies.
Border residents had to flee their homes and more than 100,000 families were uprooted from the border belt in 2002, when the Indian Army moved to the border following a terrorist assault on the Indian parliament in December 2001.
"Our call for peace on the borders and dialogue between India and Pakistan resulted in the November 2003 ceasefire. As a result there was peace from Kathua to Kargil (from Jammu plains to the trans-Himalayan heights)," PDP patron Sayeed, the then chief minister, told a news agency.
"For them, we are the party of hope," he said.
For the more than five million people of the Jammu region - 60 percent Hindus and 35 percent Muslims - the valley is the first love of Kashmir-centric parties.
"But PDP rule had given us a feeling that we too matter," said Subash Anand, the employee of a private company.
"I did not vote for the PDP, but now when I reflect on what the party had done, I feel the party deserves better treatment," he added.
What has impressed the residents of Jammu is that Sayeed was the first chief minister who stated that "Jammu would have to play its role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue".