Can the Congress-NC Combine Give BJP a Run for Their Money in J&K?

Two days after Hizb commander Burhan Wani was killed, Peoples Democratic Party leader Tariq Hamid Karra warned that the volcano gathering steam in the Valley was a result of “betrayal of mandate” his party had won in Kashmir where the Omar Abdullah-led government was reduced to fringes on the electoral turf in the last assembly elections. The PDP had sought votes in Kashmir to stop the rise of the BJP, which had the largest vote share of 32.4 percent in J&K in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

For Karra, who was against his party’s alliance with the ‘Sangh Parivar’ from the beginning, it was important that the BJP stays away from running the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier this year, he had parted ways from the PDP, which came third with 20.5 percent votes in the last Lok Sabha polls, to join the Congress that came second with 22.9 percent votes.

(Photo: The Quint)

The Congress party is fighting the upcoming Lok Sabha bypolls in alliance with the National Conference which got barely 10 percent votes. Dr Farooq Abdullah, the National Conference President and J&K Congress chief GA Mir are contesting the elections from Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies, which will go to polls on 9 and 12 April respectively.

“The National Conference and the Congress decided to fight these elections together with the sole intention of ensuring the comprehensive defeat of the politics of communalism, polarisation and divisiveness. The fire of communalism and polarisation that is being fanned and is spreading across the length and breadth of this country needs to be stopped before it engulfs our values and robs us of our rights, our sense of dignity and our special constitutional status,” Karra said after Dr Abdullah filed his nomination papers.

Also Read: J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti to Go for Cabinet Reshuffle on Friday

Before Karra left the PDP, he accused the party – which swept the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir by winning all three seats – of implementing the RSS ideology in J&K and “bartering its ideology for staying in power”, a sharp indictment by one of the party’s founding members.

“Whatever misunderstandings we may have,” Dr Abdullah told Karra at the NC headquarter here on Tuesday after filing his nomination papers, "we will clear them in future, but this is the time to stand up against communal forces".

Fight for Secularism

The decision of the National Conference-Congress combine, which was routed in Lok Sabha polls, to jointly contest the by-elections stems from their growing insecurity about the Modi-led BJP. With the PDP as its alliance in J&K, the saffron party has made inroads into the only Muslim majority state where, historically, the NC-Congress combine have been ruling, sometimes in alliance and sometimes through proxy candidates, since the partition of the Indian subcontinent.

When the Uttar Pradesh election results started trickling and it became clear that the BJP had clinched a thumping majority in the Hindu heartland, a handful of supporters of the BJP came out to celebrate in Srinagar and Anantnag, an unheard of phenomenon in the electoral history of the conflict-ravaged state. With every victory, these handful of numbers are growing.

(Photo: The Quint)

Kashmir Voting: Past Trends

The victory of the PDP in the 2014 state’s assembly elections and Lok Sabha polls was propelled by a host of reasons – the NC-Congress’s mishandling of the devastating 2014 flood, the 2010 summer unrest in which over 120 civilian were killed and the “misgovernance”. More importantly, the PDP had exhorted people to vote in large numbers so as to keep the saffron party out of the state. Even then, some of its strong contenders like Mehbooba’s uncle, Sartaj Madni, lost his seat in assembly elections.

Today, the PDP is not only facing credibility crisis in the Valley, its core constituency, for allying with the BJP, but it is seen as a 'proxy' of the saffron party which has its own ‘sinister’ agenda for Jammu and Kashmir.

Also Read: Mufti Saaed’s Son Tasaduq Joins PDP, Vows to Clean up J&K Politics

The political happenings over the last two years in J&K – from the rise of rightwing forces in Jammu to the attack on J&K’s special identity to raking up of controversial issues like abrogation of Article 370 and the last year’s summer uprising, in which close to 100 civilian were killed and over 1,000 blinded by pellets – have dented the image of the PDP in Kashmir.

Although a fragile peace prevails in the Valley from the beginning of this year, anger is simmering amid rise in anti-militancy operations and growing protests which follows them, particularly in south Kashmir which had traditionally remained the stronghold of the PDP before the unrest.

It is due to these reasons coupled with the desertion of Karra and worsening security scenario that the PDP faces a huge challenge in the upcoming polls with even Tasaduq Mufti – the brother of Mehbooba Mufti, who is contesting from Anantnag seat – asking people not to risk their lives while campaigning for the party.

(Photo: The Quint)

Mahagathbandan: Will it Work?

While the polls are less than three weeks away, the election atmosphere is completely missing on the ground and the parties have openly admitted that carrying political activity in this surcharged atmosphere will be a huge challenge. The Srinagar constituency has been traditionally a stronghold of the NC, but it was the PDP which breached the NC fort in the summer capital by winning five out of eight seats in last assembly elections.

Both the PDP and the NC-Congress combine have pockets of support in Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies. But there is a general impression in the Valley that the outcome of the polls will be largely determined by the people’s participation, particularly in south Kashmir – which witnessed maximum killing in 2016 unrest –compared to Srinagar, where the voting has always remained a low key affair.

If on the election day, the voters turn out in large numbers, it is going to be a tough battle for Tasaduq Mufti. The other factor are the smaller parties and independents, like Peoples Democratic Front's Hakim Mohammad Yasin, who boast of mass support across districts in both the constituencies and their support to either side could be crucial to the poll outcome.

But come the D-Day in April, the haze of uncertainty would be removed and it will be ascertained whether the Congress’s Mahagathbandan strategy – in the wake of the UP results, to stop the rise of the BJP and its allies – will have any takers in Kashmir.