With Congress and NC in decline, politics in a flux in J&K

With the Assembly polls approaching, the political scene in Jammu and Kashmir is getting complex by the day as none of the parties in the state is a clear favourite to emerge victorious.

Given the ground reality in the conflict-hit state any party claiming that it can win 44 Assembly seats (minimum needed for forming the government) or can reach somewhere near it, must be day dreaming. In an electoral scenario of the state which is very much in a flux, nothing definite can be claimed. The Assembly polls in the state are scheduled for the fall.

The term of the state Assembly, which has a six year tenure, will come to an end in January next year. After the results of parliament elections in May this year, in which ruling National Conference (NC)-Congress coalition were decimated, main opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party looked favourite for the Assembly polls. However, euphoria seems to have died down and analysts say though PDP may improve its present tally of 21 seats, it can never cross 30 mark in 2015 elections.

While the PDP has all these years tried to project itself as a better alternative to both NC and Congress, it seems that the party’s main objective is to grab power by hook or by crook which is why it has fielded many candidates whose money matters more than their dedication and sincerity.

The PDP has been haranguing about corruption and mis-governance of the NC-led government. There is no denying the fact that the present government has miserably failed to come up to the expectations of the people but the way the PDP is projecting itself as a saviour of Kashmir is nothing but hypocrisy.

There is also a buzz around the prospects of rightwing BJP which once was considered a pariah in the state. But of late the party has significantly scaled up its political ambition, aiming even to form the next government. And what is more, nobody shakes his head in shock and disbelief when the party boasts about its ‘mission 44+.’

The BJP high command has rested its hopes on winning the maximum seats in the Jammu region where it won both parliament seats recently. The party also hopes to gain in Jammu due to communal and regional polarisation.

The saffron party wants to gain maximum out of the recent controversy when the state administration did not allow Kashmiri pandits to perform Kounsar Nag yatra from south Kashmir’s Kulgam route in addition to the traditional route from Reasi after a strike called against it by the separatists over the issue.

In 2008 Assembly polls, BJP registered its victory in as many as 11 seats and had a vote share of around 22 per cent in Jammu region. The party’s impressive performance that time was mainly an effect of the Amarnath land row agitation during which political mobilisation had taken place on religious cum regional sentiments of which the BJP was the main gainer.

Lack of organisational structure

However, the fact is that the BJP does not have an organisational structure in place in the Muslim majority Kashmir, which accounts for 46 seats in the 87-member Assembly. Under these circumstances the party has rested its hopes in Kashmir on people like Sajjad Lone, son of a former assassinated Hurriyat leader, who had unsuccessfully contested 2009 parliament elections. If Sajjad, who has inherited a mass base in north Kashmir, enters into any sort of understanding with the BJP, that would be enough to spoil the prospects of the NC and PDP.

As the recent parliamentary election changed the dynamics of Kashmir politics the NC and Congress decided to part ways and fight the Assembly polls on their own. The image-deficit and the disillusionment that ensured their rout in the parliament polls continues to linger and seems likely to persist unless either they drastically revaluate their politics or any dramatic turn of events works in their favour. Both the Congress and the NC drew a blank in the Lok Sabha elections in J&K, with all its six candidates losing to opposition PDP and BJP candidates.

Between the two parties, NC, however, took the most pro-active steps to try and find itself back in favour. After the rout in parliament polls, chief minister Omar Abdullah embarked on an allout populist drive to woo back the Valley, his core constituency.

In a spate of decisions, he raised the employees’ retirement age from 58 to 60, withdrew the stipendiary new recruitment policy which prescribed one-third of the actual salary to the government employees for the first five years of their service, raised the age for entry into government employment from 37 to 40 and revoked the ban on SMSs in vogue since 2010.

But despite all these measures, Omar’s NC is going to be the major loser in the elections. The party which has 28 members in the present Assembly, is expected to come down somewhere between 15-20 seats in 2014. The NC had vote share of 19 per cent in the 2008 Assembly polls, which plummeted to a pathetic 11 per cent in this year’s parliament elections.

 The trend has caused alarm bells to ring in Kashmir’s grand old party, which has been to the state what the Congress has been to the country. In fact, Omar and his father Farooq Abdullah are battling a virtual revolt in the party.

Like the NC, the Congress which had won majority of its present 17 seats from Jammu region in 2008 election, is also on decline and the party’s disastrous defeat in the Lok Sabha elections throughout the country will have a definite impact on its performance in the Assembly polls later this year.

Congress leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam Nabi Azad’s decision to opt out of the forthcoming Assembly elections proves that he is unsure of his personal victory and the victory of his party in the state.

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