The National Conference (NC) and the Congress have announced that they will contest the forthcoming assembly elections separately, thereby ending the alliance that has been in power in Jammu and Kashmir since early 2009. This decision surprises no one as there is clearly no benefit to be had from continuing together. Both parties fought the Lok Sabha elections together but drew a blank, with the BJP and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) securing three seats apiece from the state.
The NC and the Congress units in the state have also been at loggerheads for years. This is in some measure due to the different constituencies they are accountable to. The Congress has a strong client base in Jammu, while the NC’s stronghold is in parts of Kashmir. Politicians from both parties appeared to look out for their own interests. As a result, the ruling alliance, led by chief minister Omar Abdullah, rarely seemed to act in concert to tackle governance challenges in the state. The alliance held this long only due to the personal friendship between Mr Abdullah and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. The Congress, which garnered nearly 23% of the vote in the Lok Sabha polls, will be fancying its chances of securing a post-poll arrangement with the PDP. The latter managed 20% and is expected to do particularly well in the Valley. The BJP will do well in Jammu but it’s not yet clear which way the PDP will swing as it would weigh the merits of allying with a party in power at Delhi while keeping regional tensions between Jammu and Kashmir in mind.
The Congress’ insistence that it initiated the split — a version that the NC contests — signals a loss of confidence in Mr Abdullah, whose party managed only 11% of the vote in the Lok Sabha polls. A liberal politician, he will strive to represent his legacy in the coming months. All chief ministers of J&K operate in a tough environment. Mr Abdullah himself had to tackle the effects of persistent unrest and violent reprisals during 2008-10. He had an unhelpful ally to contend with and was overruled by the ministry of defence on the partial lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. That said, his triumphs in governance are not readily apparent. Perceptions of disconnect with the people will dog him in the months ahead.
The NC has also announced that Omar’s father, Farooq Abdullah, will not contest the assembly elections, perhaps indicating a slow fading away for the charismatic and often controversial politician. We are witnessing a watershed moment in Kashmir’s political history.