ADVERTISEMENT

J&K’s Political Pot Simmers: Will Azad Play A Role? Is NC Now a House Divided?

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s resignation comes on the heels of the Abdullahs’ contradictory stands on the Gupkar alliance.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
J&K’s Political Pot Simmers: Will Azad Play A Role? Is NC Now a House Divided?
i

Just when Ghulam Nabi Azad becomes independent—and a potential player in Jammu & Kashmir politics once more—the father and son who run the Union Territory’s main party, the National Conference (NC), have taken different stands regarding the primacy of restoring the erstwhile state’s special status.

The provincial council of the NC for the Kashmir Valley, headed by party vice-president Omar Abdullah, decided on Wednesday that National Conference should contest all the seats in the Union Territory’s assembly, whenever elections are held.

On the other hand, party president Farooq Abdullah told this journalist, “Election is far away. Whatever we do, we stand united [as an alliance of parties].” He added that the alliance “stands firm to fight for our original action plan”, ie, the restitution of the state and its special status.

The corollary to that would be to share seats with alliance partners to contest elections. But clearly, the father and son have different views regarding their party’s alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the other major party of Jammu & Kashmir.

ADVERTISEMENT
Snapshot
  • The provincial council of the NC for the Kashmir Valley, headed by party vice-president Omar Abdullah, decided on Wednesday that National Conference should contest all the seats in the Union Territory’s assembly, whenever elections are held.

  • The resignation on Friday of long-time Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad from that party added further unpredictability to the political scenario of Jammu and Kashmir.

  • Memories of how the PDP brought down Azad’s government, in which the former was a coalition partner, must haunt Omar.

  • Omar’s aides, who dominate the NC’s provincial council, would be unwilling to share seats with the PDP, which they would have to do if both parties contest as constituents of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).

  • All this is good news for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for it effectively junks the PAGD, which seeks to unite voters against the constitutional changes and the ruling party.

The Ghulam Nabi Azad Factor

The resignation on Friday of long-time Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad from that party added further unpredictability to the political scenario of Jammu and Kashmir. Azad could potentially form a regional party and easily emerge as a consensus Chief Minister.

Notably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi showered high praise on Azad when the latter retired from the Rajya Sabha. Modi had tearfully recalled how Azad, as Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, went out of his way to help Gujarati pilgrims who were attacked en route to the Sri Amarnath shrine.

As Jammu & Kashmir’s Chief Minister from 2005 to 2008, Azad made a name as a dynamic developer of projects, and was very popular in the Jammu province. He hails from Bhales in the mountains above the Chenab river, which runs south of the Kashmir Valley in the Jammu Division.

ADVERTISEMENT

Unstable Coalition Prospect

Memories of how the PDP brought down Azad’s government, in which the former was a coalition partner, must haunt Omar. The reason for that parting was the highly emotive transfer of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board.

That happened a few months before assembly elections were due. PDP strategists, no doubt, calculated that they could fare better in those elections as a party representing exclusive Kashmiri identity than as the coalition partner of a pan-India party.

It boiled down to maintaining Kashmir’s separate identity, for which Article 370 was shorthand. Significantly, in his interview with The Quint a year ago, Omar accepted the national consensus on making Article 370 inoperative. Regarding the constitutional changes made in 2019, he emphasised only that statehood must be restored. That is something that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had already promised while piloting the constitutional changes in Parliament.

Omar’s aides, who dominate the NC’s provincial council, would be unwilling to share seats with the PDP, which they would have to do if both parties contest as constituents of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD).

Perhaps they feel confident that the NC could win alone. Omar, who would be Chief Minister if the party does well enough, may be dubious about leading a coalition which includes the PDP.

ADVERTISEMENT

PDP was Already Divergent

Top leaders of the PDP refused to say anything about the positions taken by the two Abdullahs, both former Chief Ministers of the erstwhile state. (Uncharacteristically, Omar, too, became tightlipped the day after the provincial council resolution.)

However, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had already said when I interviewed her a year ago that “we may be sitting in the opposition” after elections are held – while NC might form a government in coalition with some other party.

Also worth noting was Omar’s strident criticism of the national opposition for easily falling in line with the constitutional changes regarding Jammu and Kashmir.

ADVERTISEMENT

BJP Gaining in the Current Scenario

In tandem with the recent announcement that temporary residents of Jammu & Kashmir would be registered to vote, the NC’s provincial council resolution is good news for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for it effectively junks the PAGD, which seeks to unite voters against the constitutional changes and the ruling party.

Some BJP tacticians apparently hope to win three or four Valley seats on their own steam. They say the party has made headway in places like the geographically and sociologically distinct Gurez constituency.

Also, constituencies were gerrymandered to improve the People’s Conference’s prospects in perhaps seven constituencies. About half of these, including Pattan and Zadibal, would go to the advantage of Shia leader Imran Ansari, a ranking PC leader.

PC would hope to join a coalition with the BJP, which may also include Apni Party, led by former minister and businessman Altaf Bukhari.

ADVERTISEMENT

Regional Differences Within Valley

However, on current reckoning, the contest for three or four seats—Bandipora, for example—will be largely between candidates of the PC and the Apni Party. Both parties have a base in north Kashmir, and some pockets of Srinagar at the Valley’s centre. Both will also have to fight the NC in these areas; the NC hopes to put up a strong show even in Shia-dominated Zadibal.

It is in south Kashmir that the NC and the PDP could face each other far more directly, for south Kashmir is the PDP’s stronghold—and all but one of the PDP’s initial stalwarts in north Kashmir have left the party.

The prospect of the NC being given a tough fight by various parties in different parts of the Valley would be music to the BJP’s ears. For, that might not only prevent a combined anti-BJP vote in the Valley but may also force NC to seek coalition partners afresh after elections.

ADVERTISEMENT

Larger View

Some of those who are in touch with the BJP’s strategic thinking say that the priority is to build a campaign plank for elections in other states rather than to win the Union Territory. From that perspective, they say, successfully conducting elections in Jammu & Kashmir is more important for the ruling party than heading a government there in the near future.

The successful conduct of elections could be projected across the country as smooth completion of the constitutional changes made in August 2019. Along with the completion of the Ayodhya temple, it could be a major plank for the BJP’s 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign.

(The writer is the author ofThe Story of Kashmir’ andThe Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. 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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from voices and opinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Quint Insider
25
100
200

or more

PREMIUM

3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Insider Benefits
Read More
ADVERTISEMENT
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!
ADVERTISEMENT
More News
×
×