The Congress party faces an uphill battle in Jammu and Kashmir, months after it suffered humiliating losses in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gaining ground and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expected to emerge as the single largest party.
The oldest national party’s dwindling fortunes were evident on Tuesday when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s rallies at Kupwara and Poonch went virtually unnoticed as the state saw an impressive voter turnout in the first of the five-phase polls.
The Congress bagged 21 seats in the 87-member assembly in the last election and has played the role of a kingmaker for the past 12 years. However, it drew a blank in all six seats it contested with former ally National Conference (NC) in the Lok Sabha polls.
Former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad lost the Udhampur seat to BJP’s Jitendra Singh, a big blow to the party.
The party — down to its lowest-ever tally of seats in the Lok Sabha — is putting up a brave face though it admits it will face challenges.
“It’s a tough fight but we are likely to retain all the seats we earlier had and will add a few more to our kitty,” said PCC president Saifuddin Soz.
Analysts say a dozen seats in the Pir Panjal and Chenab valley regions are likely to decide the party’s fate in the election.
The Congress is banking on support for Azad to win a few seats in this area that forms the Muslim belt of Jammu, otherwise a Hindu-majority region. The party also hopes to do well in a few seats in North and South Kashmir and the Muslim-majority constituencies in Ladakh like Kargil and Zanskar.
“Congress was the only party which had a pan-state influence. What happens in this election needs to be seen,” said senior journalist Sheikh Mushtaq.