Congress Visits Add Spice to the Jammu and Kashmir Politics
The Congress’ current high profile interest in Jammu and Kashmir has quickened the pace of politics in the state.
A party delegation, led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visited Jammu last Sunday, and is to visit the Valley over the coming weekend, to meet several politicians, activists and delegations in Srinagar.
The delegation has immense heft. It not only includes Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Chief Minister of the state and current leader of the opposition, but also P Chidambaram, who has served as the home minister as well as the finance minister of India.
Of the three mass uprisings in Kashmir over the past decade, Azad had to face the first as Chief Minister in 2008. Chidambaram was brought in as Union home minister during the second, in 2010 — and handled the aftermath effectively. By contrast, the ripples of the third uprising, in 2016, are still being felt.
There has been some speculation in the state over whether the delegation is an effort by the political establishment at the Centre to present the sage and inclusive figure of Manmohan Singh in order to reach out credibly to people at large.
That idea does not seem to be well-founded. In fact, Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to the state was, at one level, meant to upstage the Congress delegation. Rajnath Singh was in Srinagar the day the Congress delegation was in Jammu, his visit having been announced a few days after the Congress visit was announced.
In fact, this visit overtly puts the spotlight squarely on the Congress. Indeed, it is a more credible move than perhaps any other effort or campaign the party has undertaken in the past three years.
In both Jammu and Srinagar, a range of senior party leaders have worked hard to prepare a ground for the visit.
It is notable that Tariq Kara – who resigned the Srinagar seat in the Lok Sabha while parting from the PDP in 2016 – is involved along with other state-level leaders in preparations in the Valley. Apparently, one of his responsibilities is to organise a delegation of lawyers, one of the most politically involved professions in Kashmir.
Congress is the most likely beneficiary of the anti-incumbency sentiment that has grown in the Jammu division – from where the BJP won the majority of seats in the 2014 assembly elections.
Before furious agitations erupted in both major parts of the state, after the transfer of land to the Amarnath shrine board in the lead-up to the 2008 elections, the Congress had been expected to sweep to victory in that part of the state.
State Politics Energised
The current visits have added grist to the mill of state politics. Support from the Congress on issues such as the state’s autonomy, and on the need for bold moves to resolve disputes, tend to strengthen the hands of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti vis-a-vis her coalition partner, the BJP.
Leading lights of the Congress, such as former Union minister Manish Tewari, attended a conference in July-end in New Delhi at which the Chief Minister stated that nobody would be left to give a shoulder to the national flag in Kashmir if the state’s autonomy were compromised. Many BJP supporters were livid over some of her remarks there.
On the other hand, the Congress has hitherto been close to the National Conference. Former Union cabinet minister Saifuddin Soz told me on Wednesday that one off-shoot of such visits could be to give life to the National Conference. Soz, the previous president of the state Congress, is not actively involved in preparing for the visit.
While an alliance of the Congress and the National Conference would be politically viable, together, they do not have even close to a near a majority in the state assembly.
(The writer is a Kashmir-based author of ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’ and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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