Jammu and Kashmir's largest opposition, People's Democratic Party (PDP), a party that emerged on Kashmir's political scene only in 1999 amid rising alienation and heightened militancy in the Valley, remains an ambitious political force known for taking deft political steps.
Spearheaded by former Union home minister and former state chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the party is riding high on anti-incumbency factor dogging the ruling coalition partners the National Conference (NC) and the Congress.
Fielding candidates from five parliamentary constituencies out of six – three from Kashmir Valley and two from Jammu region – the party has no formal pre-poll alliance like its political opponent NC, which has gone for a pre-poll seat-sharing marriage with the Congress.
The utterances made by the party of late, however, wherein its leaders underlined the politics of former prime minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asked BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to follow his footsteps, points towards the party's willingness to keep a window of alliance open with it, at least for the upcoming assembly polls.
PDP's star candidate Mehbooba Mufti, also the party president, is taking on sitting member parliament Mehboob Beg from Anantnag constituency. Hailing from Anantnag, Mehbooba and her party is confident of winning the seat. Of 16 MLAs, the PDP has 12 from this constituency. However, the numerical figure also may turn against the party as several of the MLAs do face anti-incumbency factor themselves.
On the ground, the PDP has an upper hand in south Kashmir with the possibility of socio-religious group Jamaat-e-Islami cadre voting for the party in several pockets of Kulgam and Shopian districts of the constituency.
In the 2009 Parliament polls, the PDP candidate lost with a margin of 5,224 votes. However, in 2004, Mehbooba defeated NC's Mehboob Beg by 38,938 votes. With clampdown on youth participating in the 2008 - 10 street agitations alienating many in south against the ruling NC and repeated scams tarnishing the government's image, the PDP stands a chance and may fill the electorate gap of the 2009 polls.
In north Kashmir's Baramulla constituency, PDP's Muzaffar Hussain Baigh, former deputy chief minister, is up against odds. NC-Congress coalition candidate Sharief-ud-Din Shariq has slight edge over him.
The PDP has failed to make inroads in NC's bastion like Handwara and Kupwara districts.
The key to success in the north Kashmir remains in the hands of three figures. While Awami Ittehad Party president Engineer Rasheed, whose voters cast ballot in favour of the NC in the 2009 polls and Peoples Conference's Abdul Salam Bagad, who has around 60,000 vote share in the previous polls, may tilt the tide against the NC candidate. Both the leaders are contesting from the seat.
However, Democratic Nationalist Party chief Ghulam Hassan Mir, a sitting MLA with significant vote bank, is close to the Congress but asking his voters to cast votes for a NC candidate, a rival on the ground, may not be a good preposition for him with assembly polls due later this year.
So, it is interesting to see if his voters cast ballot or abstain, which may favour the PDP. So ruling out the PDP will be an over reading of the situation as the permutations and combinations may have PDP-NC in a neck to neck fight and may throw surprising results.
Kashmir's Srinagar constituency remains a weak link for the PDP. Despite ruling the state since 2002, the PDP failed to win a single seat out of eight assembly seats in the previous polls. Pitted against NC stalwart Farooq Abdullah, union minister and former chief minister, the PDP will be happy in narrowing down the defeat margin here.
The PDP's only key to win the Srinagar seat remains in the fact that separatists-backed boycott should have negligible affect and people vote in huge numbers.
The PDP has already dished out a manifesto, which tries to incorporate separatist sentiment too, by underlining that its MPs will raise the Kashmir problem in Delhi and seek a "political resolution, emotional reconciliation, economic collaboration, socio-cultural association". Will the separatist card and people come out to vote remains to be seen.
Where does it stand?
Strengths: A thinking party that believes in experimenting and taking bold political steps. Has already mixed separatism and mainstream politics and shrunk the separatist space. The party in south already had several rallies with significant participation of the locals.
The party's leaders are staying for days together at workers' houses in NC's bastion Ganderbal to dent the Abdullah's vote bank.
Weaknesses: Lack of alliances with any major political force in Delhi like the BJP or the Congress. The party is going alone without even trying to rope in independent MLAs and other forces having significant vote banks.
Opportunities: The party is banking on the NC-Congress anti-incumbency factor. Deaths of youth in the 2009-10 protests and the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru may give an upward swing to the party in both north and south.
Threats: If the NC retains two seats out of three in the polls, the PDP's bargaining power at the Centre will not only dwindle but it may fall in the lap of the BJP for the assembly polls.
What happened in 2009?
Seat contested: 3
Vote share: 20.05% (up from 11.94% in 2004)