Notwithstanding the virtual ruling out the holding of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in immediate future, at least in the current “financial year” as enumerated by Election Commission of India, political contours are quietly shaping up in the Union Territory (UT). Not that the political parties, BJP included, have become complacent after this development, but they seemed to have set their eyes on 2024 Lok Sabha elections as well to face Narendra Modi juggernaut.
Two significant developments that happened recently stand out in this regard and point towards how the politics could shape up in the UT in the run up to the general elections and cause impact on national politics. These relate to important political parties or leaders and the parties they head or represent.
The political leaders under the gaze on account of these developments are National Conference (NC) patriarch Dr Farooq Abdullah, who many still feel can join the BJP-bandwagon, if need be, and chief of the new and fledgling Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP), Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, who recently parted ways with the Congress. The two former chief ministers along with another ex-CM Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) are going to play a stellar role in coming elections-be it the assembly or Lok Sabha polls.
The NC chief Dr Abdullah directed a senior party leader Mr Javed Rana to rush to neighbouring Punjab and campaign for Congress candidate in Jalandhar Lok Sabha bi-election necessitated by the death of the party’s sitting MP Mr Santosh Chaudhary.
A prominent gujjar (nomad) leader Mr Rana is former Deputy Chairman of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state Legislative Council. More importantly he is NC’s zonal president of Pir Panjal zone (comprising the districts of Poonch and Rajouri bordering Pakistan) which as a result of the recent delimitation were detached from Jammu-Poonch Lok Sabha constituency and made part of Anantnag (across Pir Panjal range of mountains in Kashmir Valley) constituency.
Dr Abdullah, the master of politics, has made a shrewd move which not only makes his political preferences clear but, in some ways questioned the change in the geography of the two Lok Sabha constituencies if not protested. By deciding to back the Congress candidate in Jalandhar bi-election he has clearly indicated as to where would NC stand in assembly or Lok Sabha elections, whichever happens first. So, put a stop to his adversaries oft-repeated charge that he could side with the BJP.
His political adversaries particularly in Kashmir Valley are not letting any opportunity miss alarming the people that Dr Abdullah, having already allied with BJP during Vajpayee rule, could again make a common cause with the saffron party and that he has been befooling Kashmiris.
Dr Abdullah by quietly dispatching a senior colleague to campaign for the Congress nominee has also tried to quell this propaganda by making public his preferences.
Unlike the past when Kashmir politics had been covered in haze with alliances being worked out behind the curtains and moves secretly plotted, under the prevailing situations when he is under intense pressure from the ruling dispensation in Delhi, it seems Dr Abdullah wishes to portray a clear picture. And rightly too, as in the twilight of his political career with his former chief minister son Mr Omar Abdullah waiting in the wings, his options are limited.
More so, the fate of the BJP-PDP alliance is before him wherein BJP thrived by using and throwing out PDP. How this adventurous alliance, for all practical purposes PDP founder and former CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was an adventurist politician, decimated PDP with his daughter Ms Mehooba becoming his successor and left stranded midway with the alliance crashing. The Mufti family is currently struggling for its political survival.
Dr Abdullah is no political naïve but he has no time for political adventures at such a juncture. Backing the Congress nominee in Jalandhar bi-election and sending a senior leader for the purpose, is meant not just to convince the sizable gujjar voters in the constituency, it has a bigger meaning in the overall context of Jammu and Kashmir and on a broader scale national politics as Dr Abdullah will be a key player in the opposition camp.
In any case Congress’s emphatic victory in Karnataka assembly elections could encourage him to close his all-other options. Thereby further justifying his move to back the party nominee in Jalandhar.
On the other hand, Mr Azad has been carrying out his campaign in a low-profile manner which is true to his style. He has been consistently praising Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and his government’s policies towards Jammu and Kashmir.
Lately, he praised the Prime Minister’s G20 initiative in organizing related events in Kashmir and Ladakh. He felt that after having considerably controlled terrorism in the Valley, the G20 events will go a long way in promoting tourism.
This coincided with Dr Abdullah’s electoral overture towards Congress.
His reaction and praise for G20 initiatives is an open indication about where his political preferences lie under the circumstances. This is despite his repeated denial that his party will have no truck with any political party including BJP before elections. On post-alliance even with BJP he has been non-committal. But his latest stand makes things clearer as is the case with Dr Abdullah.
With these political stances Dr Abdullah strongly driven by his charm and the fact that he remains to be the tallest political leader in Kashmir with limited appeal in Jammu region, could be at an advantageous position as compared to Mr Azad. Latter after forming DPAP has set his eyes on Dr Abdullah’s predominant Muslim support base for obvious reasons.
Mr Azad definitely has the advantage of clean image and a non-controversial and comparatively successful short tenure as chief minister which under normal circumstances could have paid him political dividends.
However, given the current politically surcharged atmosphere with controversial issues such as return to statehood, partial abrogation of Article 370 and refusal of the Centre and the J and K Lt Governor’s administration to address the issues pertaining to political empowerment, and bread and butter, to the satisfaction of the people, it will be interesting to see how much ice will Mr Azad’s image and past performance cut with the people.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.