Final leg puts NC-Congress alliance in tight spot
If the national parties, the Congress and BJP, have fought a hard battle in the Jammu region in the ongoing Lok Sabha (LS) elections, regional outfits, the National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are locked in an intense fight in the Valley.
Ruling coalition partners the NC and Congress have an electoral alliance, while the BJP and PDP are fighting it alone. In the Jammu region, where the polling has concluded, the contest was mainly between the national parties. Political analysts and opinion polls have suggested that riding on the Modi wave, the BJP will cruise to victory in the Jammu-Poonch seat while Udhampur-Kathua seat could go either way.
The result of Udhampur seat will decide the fate of Congress bigwig and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who is, for the first time in his more than three decade political career, contesting LS polls from the state.
The common man in the Valley feels that the ruling coalition has not lived up to their expectations. However, they are also not happy with the opposition PDP. Among the factors which may affect the outcome of results is the recent surge of violence during elections.
The killing of a few panchayat representatives and polling officials can also become an important factor in the outcome of the present elections. The killings have resulted in generating fear among the people.
While caste, religion and region plays an important role in the polls in the Jammu and the Ladakh regions, politics in the predominantly Muslim-majority Valley is driven by mainstream and separatist forces. Besides religious considerations, there are large numbers of tribal Gujjar and pahari (hill area) voters in both the Jammu region and the Valley.
According to Gul Muhammad Wani, professor and noted political commentator, the issue of boycott of elections favouring any candidate depends on the profile of the constituency.
“Constituencies do not have a uniform pattern and Assembly segments within parliamentary seats have their own individual profile and voting pattern. Perceptions of incumbency and anti-incumbency also vary from seat to seat. Hence, it is difficult to say in concrete empirical terms, who is going to benefit out of it,” Wani said.
Besides separatists groups, United Jehad Council (UJC), headed by Pakistan Occupied Kashmir-based Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahudin, has asked people to boycott elections.
Hizbul Mujahideen posters have appeared in several areas of the Valley threatening attacks on policemen and politicians, besides asking voters to stay away from polling. Separatist groups have also been carrying out anti-election rallies across Kashmir over the past one month, urging people to stay away from the exercise. The PDP alleged that the boycott was being enforced selectively by the ruling NC as it wants to use the call for its benefit.
The south Kashmir’s Anantnag seat has seen a straight fight between incumbent NC MP Dr Mehboob Beig, who is facing firebrand PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.
In 2009, the NC had won Baramulla, Anantnag and Srinagar seats, while the Congress bagged Udhampur and Jammu with an independent candidate supported by the NC winning Ladakh. In the May 7 polling, a close contest is expected between NC patriarch and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah and former Finance Minister and PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra in Srinagar.
Split in votes
The Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray and political analysts believe that it will eat into the NC’s votes in Srinagar, while the PDP will be at the receiving end in south Kashmir. Official data reveals that the vote share of the both the NC and Congress has decreased since the 2004 elections, unlike that of the PDP and BJP.
In the 2008 Assembly elections, the NC secured 25 per cent of the votes as compared to 28 in 2002. The BJP had received a 9 per cent boost in vote share in the Jammu region. The Congress vote share went down from 24.5 per cent in 2002 to barely 20 in 2009, with huge losses in the Kashmir Valley. The PDP increased its vote share by seven per cent, most of it in the Kashmir valley.