Congress, NC exploring possibilities of a pre-poll alliance in J&K
While Omar Abdullah has been publicly proposing the idea and Congressmen disposing it, Dr Farooq Abdullah put a lid on the controversy by suggesting he will personally take it up with Congress High Command.
“Though the Working Committee meeting was more about celebrating the victory but there were meek references towards a possibility of an alliance,” an NC leader who attended the meeting said. “It was in this backdrop that Dr Farooq Abdullah said he will personally take up the issue with the Congress High Command. That is it.”
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose friendship with Rahul Gandhi was the sole factor responsible for the alliance without any common minimum programme, has repeatedly suggested that the two parties will go to polls in 2014 jointly.
Initial rebuff came from NC, itself. It was his uncle Dr Mustafa Kamal, the additional secretary general, who said Omar’s ideas are his personal and not essentially a party view. A Congress basher, Dr Kamal has been invoking the historic love-hate relationship of the two parties to show Congress as a villain.
It was the Congress’s turn. PCC Chief Prof Saif ud Din Soz has reacted sharply suggesting that forging an alliance is the sole domain of the party leadership at the centre. “Congress party high command has the final authority to decide the 2014 elections,” Soz told cheered up Congressmen in Srinagar and Jammu. “Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has every right to talk about this matter but he can not decide solo.”
The two parties sharing power in the state do face problems. While NC is sobbing over Congress ministers dictating their decisions, Congressmen see a crisis in denying them leadership of the alliance for half of the six-year term. They also see continued unfilled berths in the cabinet and two of their portfolios lying with Omar as another injustice. More recently, they are accusing NC of ignoring its party-workers thus impeding Congress’s growth in the state.
The bipolar government has impacted governance. Every second person in the coalition is accused of corruption. There are pending cases and fresh filing of complaints but there is no action. There are instances of formal probes into acts of corruption launched by legislative body being bulldozed. Both sides admit these ‘small problems’ are part of coalition ‘compulsions’. This is denting the idea of offering clean governance to a place that is officially limping out of a protracted turmoil.
With both the parties happy over the verdict of a limited special election, they are in the midst of framing poll strategies. Congress has devoured BJP in the state and it will have to project itself to be slightly “rightist” in its outlook to address the right-wingers. The party will be more hawkish on Kashmir to retain what it has managed from the Dogra heartland.
In the weekend Working Committee meeting, NC has also identified issues it will stick with to woo the voters in Kashmir. In case of a pre-poll alliance, NC will have its footprints restricted mostly to Kashmir.
Of the 14 points that the party unanimously resolved in its meeting, the most important is appealing India and Pakistan to settle Kashmir, improve the trans-LoC trade, opening new routes and, most importantly, an appeal to New Delhi to accede to its autonomy demand and withdraw the AFSPA. Rest are administratively and developmental issues.
In the special election, Congress and National Conference managed wining two seats each and the principle opposition PDP ended runner up everywhere. Overall across the state, it bagged nearly 57% of 31119 polled votes. In Kashmir, the NC-Congress jointly polled 53% and the opposition 26.5% which changed in Jammu region to 61.23% for the coalition and 14.53% for the PDP. But the larger argument being made is whether 31119 panchs and sarpanchs elected through a non-party election can speak for more than five million voters across the state who will vote to choose the new government in 2014?
Mufti Sayeed’s PDP that ended runner up on all the four seats says the state was poised for a genuine democratic contest for the first time in its history as the people will have clear options to choose from on the basis of performance.
“Democracy in J&K had suffered in the past for a variety of reasons but one major deficiency was the absence of a credible alternative to the National Conference in Kashmir and generally adversarial national parties in most parts of Jammu,” Mufti told a gathering in Jammu. “This left people in the Valley with a fait accompli in the shape of NC and fractured Jammu mandate with the result that no matter who voted for whom NC ended up in the driver’s seat.” This unusual scenario, he said, made NC arrogant and the notion of absolute power and indispensability led it ideologically and materially to absolute corruption and it would swap parties, rig elections, oppress opponents, and make U-turns and compromises on state’s vital interests with impunity. In this situation, Mufti sees, his PDP emerging as an alternative.