March 30, 2014

JAMMU KASHMIR & LOK SABHA 2014


DOES THE NC-CONGRESS COMBINE HOLD THE EDGE?


Referred to as 'Heaven on Earth' by 13th century poet Amir Khusrao, the picturesque state of Jammu Kashmir has become the bone of contention between the sub-continental rivals - India and Pakistan. Besides the four wars, terrorists backed by Islamabad have wrecked havoc here, killing thousands and destroying the local economy. Meanwhile, the upcoming General Elections for the six parliamentary seats in the state will see a battle of another kind, not the one fought with guns and weapons but the one fought electorally. The NC-Congress combine which has been in power since 2008 has already forged a pre-poll alliance. Led by former CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the PDP has gone for an all out attack on the incumbent government, aware that a victory in the Lok Sabha will sent in the momentum for a good performance in the state assembly polls scheduled for late 2014. It has also indicated that it is open to supporting the BJP in the future. On the other hand, the saffronists too are keen on improving their performance here. Narendra Modi has attended several rallies in the Jammu region and the BJP is hopeful that large turnout will actually translate into votes. Lets see if we can predict as to who will win India's northern-most state.

ISSUES

(1) Development: The people of all three regions of the state - Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh want development. Sadly while much of the country is marching on the path of progress, the state has just lagged behind. The infrastructure is still not up to the mark whereas lack of companies means that jobs have not been generated locally. This is going to be one issue that all political parties are going to talk about.

(2) Anti-incumbency: After being in power for six years, there is anti-incumbency against the NC-Congress combine. Corruption is rampant in the state. Former army chief V K Singh in an interview had said that the armed forces regularly bribe ministers and other political leaders. In fact, he claimed that this practice has existed since 1947. Besides, several scams have rocked the Omar regime, including the Rs 25,000 crore Roshni scam. You can expect the BJP and the PDP to rake this point int eh upcoming days.

(3) Article 370: The BJP has on several occasions demanded the scrapping of the article 370 of the Indian Constitution which provides special privileges to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Speaking at a rally, Modi has called for a debate on this topic. This has met with stiff Opposition from leaders of other political parties across party lines including Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Saif-ud-Din Soz.

(4) Terrorism: While infiltration has come down in the last few years, terror related violence continues to threaten the fragile peace in the picturesque state. The state's tourism industry which is the backbone of the local economy is the most affected. Cross-border terrorism is the major reason that industries have not come here. The saffron outfit is already known for its tough stance on this topic. The regional parties though are playing the balancing act.

(5) Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA): This 'hated' law gives special powers to the armed forces in the so-called 'disturbed areas' including Kashmir. People of the state have alleged that it is used by the army to commit atrocities on the local population. The CM Omar Abdullah has. time and again asked the Centre to review the AFSPA. Considering that it is an emotive issue, you can expect the two regional players to raise it in their election campaigns.

CONTENDERS

(1) UPA: Formed by Sheikh Abdullah - the 'Lion of Kashmir' who was instrumental in the merger of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu Kashmir into India, the National Conference (NC) is the largest party in the present state assembly. Led by the dynamic Omar Abdullah, the incumbent CM, the party has been in power in New Delhi since 1999. Having dumped the BJP days before the 2004 polls, the party joined the UPA and was a part of Manmohan Singh government in its two terms. According to the pre-poll arrangement with the Congress, the regional player will contest three parliamentary seats in the state. It has renominated its sitting MPs - former CM Farooq Abdullah (Srinagar), senior leader Mehboob Beg (Anantnag) and Sharief Din Shariq (Baramullah) from the three seats in the Kashmir valley which it had swept in 2009.

While there were reports that the NC-INC alliance in the state was heading to a splitsville, the grand old party has managed to pacify its partner. At a time when it is losing the race for the allies to the BJP (Link), it is indeed a big relief for the Congress that it has managed to convince the Abdullahs to be with them. Former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad is the party's nominee from Udhampur, a seat where there is a significant 'Modi wave'. In fact, this will be the first time that the Union Health Minister will contest the national polls from his home state. The INC has nominated sitting MP Madan Lal Sharma from Jammu-Poonch seat which it has won eight times in the past. Tsreing Samphal is the party's candidate from Ladakh - the largest Lok Sabha constituency by size in the country.

(2) People's Democratic Party (PDP): The principal Opposition in the state assembly, the PDP under the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was in power with the support of the Congress between 2002 and 2008. However, considering the fact that the outfit does not have the kind of reach that the NC has, there is little doubt that it is feeling jittery ahead of the polls. While there is certain amount of anti-incumbency in the state, the ruling coalition is still a formidable opponent. Secondly, while the PDP is sending overtures to the BJP, hailing the days under Vajpayee as the 'Golden period in Kashmir', it cannot ally with the saffron outfit under Modi, at least before the elections. Although, there is no doubt that it's focus is on the state polls, the Muftis know that the results of the Lok Sabha will determine which way the wind is blowing. In case it is able to do well, it may force the Congress to re-think its alliance with the Abdullahs in the post-poll scenario. The party's nominees include Mehbooba Mufti (Anantnag), senior leader Tariq Hameed Karra (Srinagar) and Yashpal Sharma (Jammu-Poonch).

(3) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): Having won an unprecedented 11 seats in the last state polls, the BJP is strong player in the Jammu region. To add to this, the Modi-mania is on a high with thousands of people attending his rallies here. The party has given tickets to its state president Jugal Kishore Sharma (Jammu-Poonch) and spokesperson Dr Jitendra Singh (Udhampur). However, it continues to be an insignificant player in the valley. It will be interesting to see how the party performs in Jammu Kashmir in 2014.

(4) Jammu Kashmir National Panther's Party (JKNPP): The Panther's Party, like the BJP has a strong presence in Jammu. However, in the last state assembly polls, it lost a large chunk of its base to the saffron outfit. Party supremo Bhim Singh has entered the poll fray from Udhampur and will be taking on Ghulam Nabi Azad.

PAST PERFORMANCES

In the last five Lok Sabha polls held in the volatile state, the National Conference has been the dominant player. Except for 1996 when it failed to even its account, the party has performed quite well in other elections. The INC which had four seats in 1996 had its worst results in 1999 when it drew a blank but has recovered ever since. The BJP which was strong in Jammu in the late 1990s won no seats in 2004 and 2009.

Political Party
2009
2004
199919981996
National Conference (NC)
3
2
4
3
-
Congress (INC)
2
2
-
1
4
People's Democratic Party (PDP)
-
1
-
-
-
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
-
-
2
2
1
Others
1
1
-
-
1

MY PREDICTIONS

In a state where there are so many candidates in the fray, the ruling coalition is still strong. I expect them to win about 3 to 4 seats together. My guess is that PDP and the BJP will finish with 1 seat each.

Political Party
Expected Seats
1
UPA (NC + INC)
3-4
2
People's Democratic Party (PDP)
1-2
3
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
1-2


WATCH OUT

(1) The NC-Congress bond looks shaky: As mentioned earlier, the National Conference and the Congress bonhomie was facing some turbulence some time back. Although things seem to have been sorted out, the strength of the partnership will be tested in the General Elections. If the allies win 4 seats or more, then it the friendship will continue. In that scenario you can expect the NC-Congress combine to win the state elections too. However, if their joint tally falls short of four, cracks will widen further. In that case, the whole political scenario in the state will change drastically.

(2) PDP - In search of allies: Now the PDP just cannot think for winning the state polls on its own. Also, the Muftis just cannot join hands with their political rivals - the Abdullahs. As such, there are only two options before it. The Congress is already in alliance with the NC. If the allies fare badly in the Lok Sabha, then the PDP can renew its friendship with the PDP. There is one more possibility though. If the BJP can win over 20 seats in the state assembly polls then the Muftis can think of doing business with them. However, a pre-poll arrangement between the two is almost ruled out.

(3) Will the lotus bloom in Jammu: In the last state polls, the BJP increased its tally by 10 seats to finish with a score of 11. Can the saffron outfit carry its good form into 2014 and perform well both in the General and state polls. Jammu is the key region for the party. If the party can say, finish with 15 seats in the state, then you can expect the two regional parties - the NC and the PDP to approach it for an alliance.

For more posts in this series:
(1) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)