A new political scenario emerging in Jammu and Kashmir

With 2014 parliamentary elections round the corner, major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir are gearing up for the tough battle for six seats in the state.

The 2009 elections carried altogether a different balance of equations. As parliamentary elections in 2009 were held immediately after the Legislative Assembly polls of 2008, there was a huge “voter expectation factor” which undoubtedly impacted the final results.

Ruling National Conference (NC)-Congress coalition had then recently assumed power in the state and all the associated cadres and supporters were upbeat and the anticipation of having NC led collation in power for next six years gave them every reason to stop thinking of options (irrespective of their worth) beyond it. It helped the ruling coalition to win all the six Lok Sabha seats in the state. While NC won three seats in the Kashmir Valley, Congress won the two in Jammu and an independent candidate supported by Congress won the lone seat in Ladakh region.

However, the situation in 2014 will altogether be different for the ruling coalition. Besides the anti-incumbency factor it has to face the wrath of voters for huge scams indulged in by its ministers during last five years. Three fold increase in power tariff, introduction of exploitative stipend structure in government jobs, inflated drinking water bills, killings of more than 100 people in 2010 summer agitation and a bag-load of scandals are some of the ‘achievements’ of the state government during last five years. The baggage is so heavy that NC and Congress will find it almost impossible to stand stably in the next competition. To add to the failures of local governance the sentiment of people have further been dented with frequent insensitive statements by NC president and Union Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah.

While the Congress has earned a ‘name’ for grafts and price rise, the NC is bereft with corruption charges against ministers and many officials, including the recently exposed BOPEE paper scandal, spurious drug supplies, fake encounters, killing of innocent civilians and many other cases that have shaken the so called ‘popularity’ of the present government so much that the chief minister now contemplates not to fight election from his traditional bastion, Ganderbal constituency. Though he has refuted the news, the sources within the party are sure that their leader is an endangered species there and he would do well to fight, at least, from two constituencies, if they have to show that Ganderbal is not a forbidden territory for them.

Testing the waters

Monkey-business of parliamentary seats between NC and Congress has already taken place. It has made the NC go Kashmir centric while leaving the Jammu base for the Congress where it faces threat from the BJP, especially in the backdrop of rising popularity of Narendra Modi. The NC can’t win the Jammu vote because it is primarily Kashmir based and people in Jammu have no love for it. Similarly, Congress can’t do better in Kashmir for Kashmiris hate it for being Delhi’s voice. Therefore, the seat sharing is worked out, primarily, to keep the other parties out of power—the BJP in Jammu and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kashmir.

However, BJP riding on Modi wave is set to improve its performance and is expected to snatch two  seats from Congress in Jammu and PDP is set to win south Kashmir constituency where it has fielded its firebrand president Mebooba Mufti against the incumbent and not so popular NC MP Dr Meboob Beg. While BJP is looking to cash in on a sustained polarisation in Jammu region, only sharpened by last year’s communal clashes in Kishtwar, PDP has made inroads in the stronghold Assembly constituencies of NC in Srinagar. Notably, while Kishtwar was burning, the BJP wasted no time in dispatching senior leader Arun Jaitley, considered party's one of the  main strategists for the coming polls, to visit the strife hit town. However, that visit was disallowed by the state government. At present, PDP is highlighting the failures of the present dispensation among the masses. Interestingly, the PDP has carved out a well-thought-out strategy and the party is testing waters by fielding its former minister Tariq Hamid Karra against NC stalwart Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Political observers believe that there is  very less possibility for Congress, NC and PDP going with a pre-poll alliance in the field. All parties will prefer to fight on their own to gain maximum. If peace prevails, people would definitely come to vote in large numbers. What remains to be seen is whom people would choose.  People have understood that boycotting elections gives a direct support to incompetent candidates and it also makes it easier for people in engineering the election process. A new generation of voters has joined the population of Jammu and Kashmir and a new political scenario has emerged during the last five years. These young people are globally exposed, well informed, possess speedy communication devices and aware about the benefits of having in place an efficient democratic structure. It is time to make a choice between right and wrong. It’s time to vote.

Latest developments have proved one thing that “over confident” Congress, which has been sharing power in JK since 2002, this time around is on a “slippery wicket.” If Modi factor works for BJP in forthcoming parliamentary elections, next assembly polls in J&K can prove to be an uphill task for the party, and roping in retired bureaucrats and turncoats from other parties is hardly going to help its cause.

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