Referendum for J&K Government

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Lok Sabha bi-polls for Srinagar and Anantnag seats is one of the eagerly watched elections in J&K because it would give glimpse of locals feeling on BJP-PDP alliance

Picture: Mehbooba Mufti with Nirmal Singh; Tariq Hamid Karra with Ghulam Nabi Aazad; Omar Abdullah with Farooq Abdullah

By Anil Anand

Militancy apart, politics of Kashmir has never been synonymous with stability. There have been occasional stints of stability which have been marred or more positively interspersed with bouts of instability mostly the creation of political experimentation borne out of either individual ambitions or ideological fallout. As the past track-record suggests such scenarios always had direct bearing on the Valley’s politics.

Politics of Kashmir has to be viewed in isolation of Jammu and Ladakh, the other two regions of the state, as three regions are as politically diverse, as linguistically and ethnically. This is despite the fact that any political development happening in Kashmir deeply impacts the state’s polity.

So what does Peoples Democratic Party leader Tariq Hamid Karra’s decision to part ways with the party which he had founded along with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed only in the recent past and subsequent joining the Congress denote? His making common cause with the Congress just on the eve of two Lok Sabha bi-elections in Kashmir brings out the significance of his move. As Karra denies any plans to contest the poll from Srinagar seat which he had vacated after falling out with the Muftis, even if does so the import of his decision could have strong bearing on the poll outcome.

There could not have been a more proper opportunity for Karra, a former Finance and Planning Minister in the Mufti’s cabinet, to leave PDP than this. Both Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats were won by PDP in 2014 and the latter was vacated by Mehbooba Mufti when she became chief minister with BJP’s help. Known to be a low profile politician belonging to a prominent political family, this could be his time to elevate himself politically.

Karra’s breaking ranks with the PDP was on purely ideological grounds as he had been vehemently opposing an alliance with RSS-backed BJP. The differences had started during the life time of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and became deeper when his daughter took over, particularly in the aftermath of unsavoury developments propelled by loose cannons of Sangh Parivar. While Mehbooba was unrelenting Karra grew restive and waited for the right time to call it quits.

He had three options; to join Farooq Abdullah-Omar Abdullah, father son duo, dominated National Conference which he was once briefly part of, float a new outfit or join Congress. Floating a new party seemed difficult and so was joining NC as it did not fit into his current anti-RSS thesis. Aligning with BJP had resulted in shrinking of political ground of both PDP and NC as the latter had also been an ally of the party-led NDA at the Centre.

Despite certain ground realities which could favour Congress in the Valley, Karra was convinced that it was unconceivable that Congress would ever drift towards RSS. So his choice fell on the grand-old party of which one of his close family members Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq was the chief minister in the 1960s-70s.

Karra surely would be having some concept of how to pursue a different stream of politics to extricate Kashmir out of the current political mess. But Lok Sabha bi-elections have an immediate task cut-out for him. If he decides to contest to retain his old seat certainly he would be a formidable candidate but more importantly even while sitting out he can become a rallying point for all those sulking within the PDP for same reasons. South Kashmir (Anantnag Lok Sabha seat falls in this area) has been a PDP stronghold with pockets of Congress’s influence. In Srinagar (central Kashmir) Congress almost has a negligible presence and Karra’s joining provides it much needed fillip.

So the importance of his joining the Congress! Firstly, he would not have to contend with any local high command as is the case with PDP and NC. Secondly, Congress locally could provide him a wider canvas to work. Of course he would have to master the art of genuinely convincing the party leaders in Delhi about the need to strengthen forces ideologically opposed to communal elements.

Indications emerging after his initial interactions are that the party is receptive to his idea of galvanising the secular forces both at the national and the state levels though this would be a long term strategy. Certainly, all eyes would be on the two bi-elections which would provide Karra an opportunity to assess his own strength.

Slightly prior to Sadiq drifting away from the family-run NC, Ghulam Mohiuddin Karra had distanced from Sheikh. He founded Political Conference post 1953. Karra had his own politics that would keep him away from the governance system. But when the 1971 war led to the slicing of Pakistan, the impact was felt by Kashmir’s entire leadership. Karra was not an exception.

Karra had an ideological shift. On the request of Jai Prakash Naraian, Karra agreed to contest for Lok Sabha in 1977 as a Janta Party candidate. That time it was NC versus JP and the latter was supported by Moulana Masoodi, Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone. He lost the election. Post-defeat, he remained restricted to his home till he passed away in 1996, on the day Srinagar polled for the state assembly elections.

Tariq Hameed Karra who defeated Abdullah scion, says he was trained by Mohiuddin Karra from his early days. The 1955 born Karra is law graduate who briefly practiced bar as a junior of Mian Abdul Qayoom. Before becoming the founding general secretary of the PDP, Karra had a brief spell with NC, a relation that did not last for long. He was nominated to the Legislative Council in 2003 and was later elected from Batamaloo to the assembly.