Soon after 1987 Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, a newspaper carried a caricature portraying Farooq Abdullah towing a boat in Dal Lake with frail Rajiv Gandhi on his stout shoulders. The telling cartoon depicted the competitive strengths of Congress and National Conference which had forged electoral alliance after the infamous Rajiv-Farooq Accord. The caricature also acknowledged the intensity of Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference that became a willing ladder for Congress to win 25 of the total 76 seats in 1987. It was a big leap forward for Congress that found a strong ally in NC, as otherwise it could have never dreamt of such a massive victory. The myth of Congress strength exploded in 1996 when it chose to go alone or was made to do so during the crucial elections after ‘suspended animation of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir’ in the wake of Pak sponsored militancy. The party fared miserably and bagged just five seats in the 83 member Assembly.
The political scenario has changed since 1996. A new outfit-Peoples Democratic Party- has emerged on the political horizon, posing a formidable challenge to Sheikh’s NC. Though PDP made heavy inroads in the National Conference bastion during 2002 and 2008 elections but it could not dismantle its premier position in the State politics. That is what makes NC a force to reckon with even now. However, the National Conference leadership does not think so. It has given up well before entering into the battlefield. It has raised its hands. Sheikh’s National Conference has willingly surrendered its premier role to Congress that, once upon a time, banked upon and begged for NC patronage.
The eagerness shown by the party working president and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for contesting scheduled 2014 elections to the Legislative Assembly in alliance with Congress has come as a rude shock to Kashmir watchers. The announcement amounts to leaving open the goal post for Congress to score as many goals as it likes. No sooner Omar Abdullah made this wish, the exited Pradesh Congress President Saif-ud-Din Soz rushed to 10-Janpath, only to get a ‘good news’ that Madam Sonia Gandhi had been ‘pleased’ to second the proposal. That makes the alliance official.
Year 2014 is still distant. The truth about the Congress-NC tie up is that it is not the type of arrangement that had been worked out by Sheikh Abdullah while entering into accord with Indira Gandhi in 1975 or by Farooq Abdullah with Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. During both these accords, the roar of lion had not vanished in the din of coalition chatters. National Conference had retained the big brother’s grandeur. In 1975, Sheikh ruled the State with Congress legislators at his beck and call. In 1987, Farooq Abdullah made his presence felt. Now, the scenario is altogether different. Omar Abdullah has been roaring and buckling too.
On the issue of repealing Armed Forces Special Powers Act, his political credibility received a big jolt when the Centre politely made him to throw his demand in the dustbin ‘for the time being’. The climax of the entire drama was the shots being called by State Congress leaders, even at the levels of Halqas and blocks. This was followed by a New Delhi ‘diktat’ for reversing the decision on holding elections to urban development bodies, as the local unit of Congress wanted implementation of 73rd Amendment of the Constitution of India.
On the political front, Omar Abdullah was made to reconcile with one seat each in Kashmir and Jammu Divisions for the elections to be held to four vacancies of Legislative Council under Panchayat quota. Is this beginning of diluting NC’s big brother role? If Congress high command can make National Conference to agree with 50: 50 in seat sharing for the Legislative Council elections, there is no reason why it should not get away with half of the seats during the ensuing Assembly elections. This will mean National Conference relegating its premier role and leaving the turf open for Peoples Democratic Party, which has already been menacingly making its presence felt in hitherto uncovered areas of the Jammu Division. That the PDP wants to play a big role in the State politics is evident from its policy diversion from Kashmir centric or more specifically separatist focused role to mainstream one. Of late, the party has been subtly trying to shun its pro-militant image. This is a clever move to fan out in the ‘prohibited’ areas of the Jammu Division. The PDP gain in Kashmir during the past two elections has been the sheer loss of National Conference. With Congress-NC now joining hands and BJP suffering infighting and credibility deficit due to the alleged involvement of its six legislators in cash for vote scam, the Jammu turf seems to be waiting for night watchman-PDP or Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party.
NC’s jumping the signal may cost it dearly.
To be concluded