J&K: The Uneasy Alliance

mehbooba mufti

Politics, they say makes for strange bedfellows. In an increasingly circumspect political environment, we see some unfathomable alliances cropping up.

By Anil Anand

In the game of numbers or arithmetic that politics has increasingly boiled down to in this era of coalition six Lok Sabha seats in the sensitive border state of Jammu and Kashmir might not seem to be an impressive number. But political parties, of vintage and new genre, have the knack to enact strange experiments, spring surprises one after the other, align, split and realign with each other with equal ease without caring for the public sentiments.

Circa 2019 Lok Sabha elections; the electoral process has just begun but the bag of political players and parties is already full of surprises; some amazing while others tumbling out of the cupboards on expected lines and the process is still on. The biggest amazement has been decision of the Indian National Congress-National Conference (headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah) to enter into an alliance- “Friendly” and not to too friendly at the same time.

In fact and which is hard to explain the parties have settled for a three-in-one variety in what is being termed as an alliance between the two friends to stop the communal forces. Firstly, the combine will have a direct alliance in three seats of Jammu-Poonch, Kathua-Udhampur, and Srinagar in Kashmir Valley. National Conference (NC) will support Congress nominees in the first two while Congress will perform similar act in Srinagar from where NC patriarch has entered the fray to retain the seat.

Secondly, the two remaining seats of Baramullah and Anantnag (in north and south Kashmir respectively) will be open for what their leaders termed as “friendly contest” meaning thereby that both NC and Congress will field candidates in these constituencies but take care that secular votes are not split to give advantage to communal forces with obvious target being BJP and its allies such as Peoples Conference of Sajjad Lone who is nurturing strong chief ministerial ambitions.

And the third tier in this alliance is limited to the remaining Ladakh seat. There is neither “friendly” nor not-too-friendly contest defined as yet for this segment. It has been left to the wisdom of the two parties to try and find a way out whereby they could prevent the seat from falling in the BJP kitty which had won it in 2014 by a slander margin. It is another matter that the party unit in Ladakh is in turmoil with sitting MP and gentleman politician, Thupstan Chhewang having quit the party six months before declaration of Lok Sabha elections.

What is this “friendly contest” and how could it be explained particularly to the rank and file of the two political parties?

There are no easy answers available to these questions and the lower-middle rung leaders and workers of both Congress and NC are groping in dark looking for clear answers. This is not to say that people in general have understood the plan. The outcome, till the time a proper explanation is given by the allies, is the confusion worst confounded at all levels.

From all available indications it is clear that both Congress and NC will field candidates in Anantnag and Baramullah to have a “friendly contest”. How will they ensure splitting of “secular” votes when they would be contesting with each other is befuddling and warrants an explanation unless leaders of the two parties are satisfied that they have pulled wool on the eyes of their workers as well as the voters. Such thinking would be fraught with serious consequences and put obstacles in the smooth functioning of alliance on ground even on two seats where Congress candidates would be supported by NC.

So, this is the story of a pre-poll alliance stitched by the two parties which they claimed was achieved in “national interest”.

For the sake of record this is how Dr Abdullah described the alliance: “Congress will contest from the two seats of Jammu and Udhampur. I, as an NC candidate, will contest from Srinagar. Both NC and Congress would field candidates in Anantnag and Baramulla. We are also discussing the Ladakh seat.” His not too simple explanation came in the presence of Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, AICC general secretary in charge of J & K and state JKPCC chief GA Mir.

A careful perusal of the pre-alliance developments would lead one to believe that  factional rumblings within the Congress and Mir’s insistence to contest from Anantnag has a lot to do with this three-in one utterly confusing alliance arrangement. He was the Congress candidate when a bi-election to Anantnag seat was declared following Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti resigning on becoming chief minister of PDP-BJP combination. However, due to “security reasons” the bi-election was not held for nearly three years till declaration of Lok Sabha elections came.

 The PDP, which is mostly a Kashmir-centric party, and its chief Mehbooba Mufti are currently in a state of flux and fighting for their political survival. The mess in which she is finding herself is the result of PDP’s alliance with BJP which did not find people’s support in the Valley.

Mehbooba sprang a surprise by announcing support to Congress candidates in Jammu-Poonch and Udhampur-Kathua seats. At the same time she announced her candidature from Anantnag seat located in south Kashmir rated as PDP’s stronghold before it landed in crisis. This is yet another dimension to the concept of “friendly contest” discovery of the Congress-NC.

The best case scenario would have been the formula adopted by Congress and NC in the past. The past formula entailed a clear cut division on 3:3 proportion with Congress contesting two seats of Jammu region and Ladakh whereas NC the three Valley seats. But that did not happen despite reports that veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad backing repeat of this formula. Ostensibly, Mir’s ambition to contest from Anantnag found support with bosses in New Delhi. It remains a fact that Azad would be a crucial factor even in ensuring party candidates victory in Jammu region in the absence of a strong organisational network and rampant factionalism that Mir failed to curb.

Yet another element of surprise came in the form of former IAS topper Shah Faesal dramatically resigning from the service and deciding to form a political party by the name Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM). He was all set to contest Lok Sabha elections as NC candidate before he decided to form a new party and later backtracking and announcing that JKPM will not fight the elections.

So, Jammu and Kashmir is once again in the realm of political experimentation with established political parties playing the lead role and new players chipping in. There are strong fears that as in the past such experiment in 2019 might cost the state and its people heavily lest these political parties and leaders act more realistically.

At least explain to the people the concept of “friendly contest”. How can one be rivals and friends at the same time?