[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]B[/dropcap]attle-lines between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition National Conference (NC)-Congress combine are finally drawn. The PDP has decided to field Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s brother film-maker-turned politician, Tassaduq Mufti, in the prestigious Anantnag Parliamentary constituency, considered a stronghold of the Mufti family, and former Congress leader Nazir Ahmad Khan in the equally prestigious Srinagar Parliamentary constituency. Election to the Srinagar constituency will be held on April 9 and in Anantnag on April 12.
In 2014, Mehbooba Mufti had trounced Mehboob Beg of the NC in the Anantnag and Tariq Hamid Karra, (presently in Congress) had defeated NC president, four-time Chief Minister and former Union Minister Farooq Abdullah.
The decision of the PDP to field Nazir Ahmad Khan in the Srinagar Parliamentary constituency is very significant. He had lost the Assembly election from Beerwah constituency to NC working president Omar Abdullah in 2014 Assembly elections by less then 100 votes. Omar Abdullah had tested political waters in two constituencies – Beerwah and Sonawar (considered very safe seats) -, but could win only Beerwah.
In 2014, Mehbooba Mufti had trounced Mehboob Beg of the NC in the Anantnag and Tariq Hamid Karra, (presently in Congress) had defeated NC president, four-time Chief Minister and former Union Minister Farooq Abdullah. Mehbooba Mufti won the election with a huge margin of 65,417 votes and Farooq Abdullah lost to almost a new comer to politics Tariq Hamid Karra by 42,280 votes. The victory of Tariq Hamid Karra surprised all political pundits for obvious reasons. It shocked the NC leaders and cadres all the more as the NC was Kashmir’s premier political organisation (1938), which dominated Kashmir’s political space almost five decades.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he PDP would want to repeat its 2014 performance, notwithstanding the fact that Kashmir remained in turmoil since March 1, 2015, when Mehbooba Mufti’s father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed assumed the office of Chief Minister with the unstinted support of the BJP. Kashmir virtually remained shut for five months after July 8, 2016, following the lawful liquidation of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Kashmir commander Burhan Wani. Even now, the situation is far from normal with seditious crowds coming on to the streets almost on a daily-basis and disrupting anti-insurgency operations.
That the NC has lost its sheen and appeal as well as confidence could be seen from the fact that it on March 14 entered into pre-poll alliance the Congress, which only on March 11 suffered a massive defeat in the just-held epoch-making assembly elections in UP and Uttrakhand.
The general view is that the PDP has over the period lost its popularity and support-base and one reason which everyone in Kashmir and Jammu cites for “its growing unpopularity is its alliance with the BJP”. It will be seen if the PDP could repeat its 2014 performance in the absence of her father late Mufti Sayeed, a shrewd politician. Of course, she would want her brother and other candidate to make it to the Lok Sabha. She knows the consequences which would follow in case the PDP lost election in any of the two constituencies. A single defeat would be enough to upset her apple-cart as it would mean revival of the otherwise very weak NC.
That the NC has lost its sheen and appeal as well as confidence could be seen from the fact that it on March 14 entered into pre-poll alliance the Congress, which only on March 11 suffered a massive defeat in the just-held epoch-making assembly elections in UP and Uttrakhand. As per the seat-sharing agreement, Farooq Abdullah will be the alliance’s candidate in Srinagar Parliamentary constituency and Jammu & Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) chief and former minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir will be its candidate for the Anantnag parliamentary constituenc. Ghulam Ahmad Mir, had also lost the last Assembly election to the PDP with a huge margin.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]t would not out of place to refer to here two very significant points. One, the Congress has a little or no support-base in the Kashmir Valley. It has only 12 MLAs in the 87-member Assembly – four from Kashmir, five Jammu and three from Ladakh. Not one Congress MLA is a Hindu. Two, Omar Abdullah’s statements post-Congress defeat on March 11 had given everyone in the country in general and Jammu & Kashmir in particular to understand that the NC could leave the defeated Congress and the almost non-existent UPA. He had, on the one hand, advised the opposition to forget 2019 and focus only on 2024 general elections, saying there was no leader in the opposition who had “pan-India appeal” or who could be a credible alternative to the victorious Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On the other, he defended the decision of the Goa Governor to invite the 13-MLA BJP to form coalition government with other regional outfits, saying the Jammu & Kashmir Governor had in November 2002 invited unelected Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and 18-MLA PDP to form government in the state, despite the fact that the NC was the single largest party with 28 MLAs.
The point is that both the NC and the Congress are fighting for their very survival and relevance in the Valley. They would become a story of the past in Kashmir in case Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Ahmad Mir lose the election.
The very fact that the NC entered into pre-poll alliance with the Congress only indicates its nervousness. It is quite understandable. It also suggests that the ongoing secessionist turmoil in the Valley and its open support to the Hurriyat Conference has not help the Abdullahs to win back the trust of the people of Kashmir (all Muslims). Had the case been otherwise, the NC would not have jumped on to the Congress’ sinking ship. Omar Abdullah’s March 14 Srinagar statement that “the Congress has assured us that all its workers and well-wishers will ensure a landslide victory for Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar” (Indo-Asian News Service, Mar 15) should clinch the whole issue and indicate the extent to which it is nervous.
The point is that both the NC and the Congress are fighting for their very survival and relevance in the Valley. They would become a story of the past in Kashmir in case Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Ahmad Mir lose the election. Today’s Kashmir is a different ball game and no one can say with any degree of confidence in which direction things would move given the nature of developments which have been unfolding for quite sometime now.
However, the most puzzling development is the ambivalent stand of the Bharatiya Janata Party on the Kashmir by-elections. On March 14, the BJP ruled out any alliance with the PDP and said it would contest the by-polls. State BJP general secretary (organisation) Ashok Koul: “The BJP will contest by-elections for the Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies. Very soon a high-level committee will announce the candidates for these two seats. We have a huge party cadre in central and south Kashmir. We have 5 lakh members in the Valley. So, we have decided to contest these elections independently as a party, rather than entering into a pre-poll alliance with the PDP”. And, he made this categorical announcement at Dooru, Anantnag.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he announcement suggested three things. One, it indicated its level of confidence after the BJP’s spectacular victory in UP and Uttrakhand and formation of BJP-led coalition governments in Goa and Manipur. Two, it suggested that all is not well with PDP-BJP coalition. There are serious differences between the two parties as far as certain important policy matters are concerned. For example, the stand of the BJP and the PDP on the construction of Hindu and Sainik colonies in Kashmir, New Industrial Policy, Goods and Service Tax (GST), settlement of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in Jammu, Land Transfer Bill, compensation to the next of kin of slain terrorist, fresh migration of Muslims from Kashmir to Jammu, to mention only a few, is contradictory. By declaring that it will also contest both the by-elections in Kashmir, the BJP has only sought to assert its position and authority and tell the PDP that it could not take it for a ride. And, lastly, and more importantly, the BJP’s declaration indicated its resolve to expand its support-base in a region it was considered untouchable, pariah.
Whether the BJP wins or loses is not the issue. What would be significant would be what the BJP leaders would say during the election campaign and on which planks they would seek votes from Kashmiri Muslims.
However, on March 18, BJP national general secretary and in-charge of Jammu & Kashmir BJP Ram Madhav said in Jammu that the PDP and the BJP leaders should sit together to decide if the BJP would contest or not contest the election. This statement is disappointing. The need of the time was to declare that the BJP would take part in the elections but it has dithered. This gives a wrong signal. By not contesting the by-polls, the BJP would give everyone in the state as well as country to understand that it has handed over sensitive Jammu & Kashmir to the pro-self-rule PDP. But more than that, its non-participation in the Kashmir by-elections would debunk the clai of the BJP that many Muslims voted for it in the just-held Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Whether the BJP wins or loses is not the issue. What would be significant would be what the BJP leaders would say during the election campaign and on which planks they would seek votes from Kashmiri Muslims. Its election campaign would clear many cobwebs of confusion and suggest what is the BJP’s roadmap for the sensitive border State of Jammu & Kashmir.
All in all, it can be said that the scheduled by-elections in Kashmir are a litmus-test for all the four players. The poll outcome would determine the fate of the PDP and the NC-Congress combine. As for the BJP, it has everything to gain and nothing to lose.