Poll prospects of political parties in Jammu & Kashmir
by Hari Om on 28 Apr 2014 2 Comments

The election campaign in the strategic Jammu & Kashmir State, like in the rest of the country, is in full swing. Elections to the two Lok Sabha seats in Jammu have already been held on April 10 and 17, and elections to the remaining four seats in Kashmir Valley and Ladakh will be held in three phases on April 24 (over) and 30 and May 7. Two national parties – Congress and BJP – and three regional parties – pro-autonomy National Conference (NC), pro-self-rule People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Jammu-centric National Panthers Party (NPP) –, besides a few marginal political groups, are in the fray.


The Congress, which is in alliance with the NC, is contesting election from three seats – two in Jammu and one in Ladakh. Its ally is contesting election from Kashmir’s three Lok Sabha seats. The Congress is considered the B-team of NC in Jammu & Kashmir, just as the NC is considered the B-team of the Congress in the UPA. As for the BJP, it is the only party which is contesting elections from all six Lok Sabha seats in the State.


The NC’s support-base is limited to a few Assembly constituencies in Kashmir Valley. The PDP, which took the plunge in five constituencies – three in Kashmir and two in Jammu – also has its support-base limited to parts of Kashmir. Both parties have only a few pockets of influence in Jammu. The Panther’s Party is a three-MLA party; its support-base is confined to parts of Udhampur and Samba districts in Jammu province, with little or no presence in other parts of the State. In fact, like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it is a marginal and insignificant player; its poll prospects are commensurate. 


The, the four major players in the State are the Congress, BJP, NC and PDP – Congress and BJP in Jammu and Ladakh, and NC and PDP in Kashmir. With the election process in Jammu province over, there are potent reasons to believe that the Congress would come out of the electoral exercise minus everything and that BJP is all set to capture both seats after a gap of ten years.


The Modi effect played a very significant role in Jammu. In Ladakh, the contest is very close between the Congress and the BJP, and the result could spring a big surprise this time. The Congress is a divided house and BJP put in all efforts to replicate Jammu in Ladakh, exploiting the Congress’s weaknesses to the hilt. Another notable aspect of the whole election scene in cold-desert Ladakh is the presence of at least two very influential independent Shiite candidates, who would surely upset the Congress’s applecart.


The election scene in Kashmir valley is very interesting. The NC, which has lost much of its sheen and has become quite unpopular owing to its various acts of omission and commission and failure to deliver on any front, especially governance, is fighting its toughest ever battle. In 2009, it had captured all three seats, but the victory margin was not really appreciable, considering the fact that the PDP was a newly-founded party. That year also, NC contested the election in Kashmir in alliance with Congress. But 2014 is not 2009. Much water has flown down the Vitasta (Jhelum) after 2009 and its arch-political foe, the PDP, is on a very strong wicket.


If one goes by the prevailing political situation in the terrorist and separatist-infested Kashmir Valley and the tone and tenor of NC leaders’ speeches, including party president Farooq Abdullah and working president Omar Abdullah, who is also the Chief Minister, then one can deduce that they are unlikely to repeat the 2009 performance. Farooq Abdullah is seeking reelection from the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Desperate and frustrated as they appear, the father-son duo has unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign against PDP leaders, including party patron Mufti Sayeed and his daughter and party president Mehbooba Mufti and PDP candidates. Mehbooba is contesting from Anantnag Parliamentary constituency.


National Conference leaders have been using very strong language against the exceptionally aggressive PDP leadership and candidates. So much so, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and everyone who matters in the NC have been leaving no stone unturned to create an impression in the Valley that the Muftis are agents of BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and that their victory would mean irreparable damage to what they term as the Kashmiri cause. In fact, they have been telling the people of Kashmir that the PDP and the BJP are working in tandem to dilute the special status the State enjoys under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has even gone to the extent of dubbing Mufti Sayeed as the “Amit Shah” of Narendra Modi in Kashmir.


Efforts to find out if the NC is seeking the people’s mandate on a developmental agenda or on the basis of the report card of the NC-Congress coalition government are futile. It’s no wonder then that the Muftis and other PDP leaders are tearing into the NC and the NC-led coalition and painting them black, anti-Kashmir and anti-movement. Not just this, the PDP leaders are doing all that they can to prove that the NC leaders, especially Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, have all along traded Kashmir and Kashmiri sub-nationalism to capture power, retain control over it and enjoy the loaves and fishes of office. The PDP leadership seems to have been quite successful in putting across its poll planks.


There is no doubt that the PDP leadership will turn the tables on the NC and might walk away with at least two seats – Baramulla and Anantnag, where party stalwarts Mehbooba Mufti and PDP ideologue and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig are pitted against the not-so-strong and popular NC candidates Mehboob Beg and Sharif-ud-Din Shariq. Even the electoral chances of Farooq Abdullah are not really bright. His “Kashmiris are mahachor” comment and similar controversial statements have not gone down well with common Kashmiris. The truth, in short, is that the NC candidates are depending more on separatists who have been calling for poll boycott than on any impressive and attractive poll plank. This is the ground situation in the sensitive Kashmir Valley.


Two things are manifestly clear. One, there is a possibility of the Muftis becoming part of the BJP-led NDA after the election results are announced on May 16, if case the PDP wins at least two seats. This belief stems from the fact that both Muftis have made umpteen positive statements about the BJP and believe that the BJP would help resolve the so-called Kashmir issue. The other is that the Abdullahs, if they win a seat or two, could leave the UPA and flirt with the NDA. The Abdullahs are fair weather friends and are unpredictable. They can change sides anytime as they cannot remain without power. One can say for sure that the PDP leadership is politically more honest than the NC leadership. However, one has to wait till May 16 to know; it all depends on how many seats the NC and the PDP win.  

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