No Popular Support This

LC jars with prevailing public image of the coalition

Publish Date: Dec 12 2012 12:00PM

It is the celebration time for NC-Congress coalition. The alliance has
been buoyed by the win in the election to four Legislative Council
seats. It was an aggressive joint election campaign by the two parties
that seems to have done the trick. NC’s unprecedented decision to host
Congress  at Nawa-e-Subah complex was a game-changer. It decisively
conjured up an image of a united coalition backed by the power of the
government. And this in itself may have been enough to persuade the
panches and sarpanches to vote for the two parties. In their campaign,
Congress and NC deftly played on the panchayat members’ aspiration for
more powers. And considering the two parties are still in power for
almost two more years and hence eminently in position to deliver on
their promise, the village heads could only have been expected to vote
for them.
But this win by no means could be termed as an indicator of the
popularity of the coalition government. In fact, without detracting
from the significance of the victory as a  morale booster for the
government, the win jars with the prevailing public image of the
coalition.  The real issue is not that NC and Congress won  but
whether their win flows naturally from the  current political scenario
in the state. The answer to this is clearly in the negative. It is
easier to win the loyalties of the powerless 33500 panchayat members
than the  wider electorate in a full-fledged Assembly election.  More
so, when a large number of these panches and sarpanches are struggling
with their own credibility among their people. And as Omar himself has
said the real test will be in 2014 when the state is scheduled to go
to polls.
However, for now, the victory in the LC polls has given NC and Congress
the confidence to look forward to a good showing in 2014. Both parties
have attempted to overdo the positive spin on the win to bolster the
coalition’s standing. Omar has termed the poll sweep an effective
reply to his political opponents. He has also talked of pre-poll
alliance with Congress for the Assembly polls, a prospect which
Congress will likely be comfortable with. But Omar’s pre-emptive talk
of a pre-poll alliance also underlines a certain diffidence about NC’s
independent electoral standing. He has only further confirmed Soz’s
claim that no party in the state will be in position to form
government without Congress support. And as a sign of this confidence,
Soz has also injected a word of caution on pre-poll alliance with NC,
saying the decision on this will be taken by the party’s high command.
There is no denying that Congress has permanently become the necessary
crutch for NC and PDP to rule the state. The only way Congress becomes
irrelevant is the decimation of either of these two major mainstream
parties, which looks improbable in the foreseeable future. Omar is
desperate to ward off a PDP return to power. Another six years of NC
rule in coalition  with Congress will be expected to deeply strain the
continuity of PDP as a party in one piece.
While these calculations spring from a normal process of jockeying for
political power in a democratic set up, in Kashmir they  lack in one
critical element: the absence of people as the  centre of political
attention. True, Congress and its New Delhi connection have become
vital to attain power in the state but this by no means should
relegate people to the background. But in the larger political scheme
of the state which also includes NC, people over the years have come
to occupy a diminished political space. There is little political
energy that is directed towards rallying the support of the people.
One can safely point to this fact as the fundamental undoing of the
democratic processes in the state. But the parties should know that
people once allowed a say can spring rude surprises much like 2002
polls and disrupt the political calculations of any party. NC
therefore needs to rethink its strategy before continuing with its
current policy of taking people for granted. At the end of the day,
the party will need people power and not the panch power for its long
term political survival.