It’s not for the first time in the political history of the state that the Congress is staring at electoral reverses. The party has bounced back in the past, but this time the possible setback could push it out of reckoning for a long time.
Before the parliamentary elections, the party was not only hopeful of emerging as the single largest party, it was mulling to get 30-plus seats.
Post Lok Sabha polls, the senior leaders even doubt crossing the double digit mark in the assembly polls to stay politically relevant.
The transformation and realisation was not hard to understand. Former union minister and ex-chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had lost to a political green horn, Jitendra Singh, in the parliamentary polls. The problem with its state unit lies in its ‘forced’ acceptance of the Nehruvian approach on the state (read Kashmir) with flip-flops.
The Congress leadership first propped late Sheikh Abdullah, then got him arrested and latter put him on the chair of chief minister by accepting the role of second fiddle. And this is the role it has continued to play since then.
In post emergency period, which some read was the start of real democracy in the state, the party had base in the Jammu region. In the absence of the BJP, it acted as savior of the region and its aspirations. It did work and even in the polarised elections of 1983 and 1987, where Jammu was pitted against Kashmir, the Congress got 26 seats in each election. It has its share of power, but ignoring its core base Jammu, it foisted Kashmiri leadership on the state. Azad was the only chief minister of the Jammu region, but the fact is he also speaks Kashmiri.
In the last six years, chief minister Omar Abdullah, who is close to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, ran the state on his own term despite being in a coalition. The Congress state unit had to plead to get its issues even discussed leave alone cleared in the cabinet. The empowerment of panchayats and financial package for refugees are the cases in point.
The emergence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the political landscape triggered cataclysm for the party. The party which had even survived the 2008 polls, which were religiously and regionally polarised, was decimated in the 2014 parliamentary elections. The shock was the defeat of Azad, the man who had held his fort in the Doda region in 2008 elections, ensuring the survival of party. The BJP this time is hoping to break his political fort also.
The party reading the writing on the wall has started asking the regional councils and even the Hindu chief minister. It was the sign of desperation and also a realistion of its folly, though some say it was forced to play second fiddle.
The biggest strength of the party is its pan-state appeal and its supposedly non-communal approach. It had benefited from it by being in power for two-consecutive terms. It needs to realistically set its political priorities away from the lens of the Nehruvian approach. The Congress has the potential to expand its base in Kashmir and has to hold on to the Jammu region if it aspires to fulfill political aspirations of both the regions, which doesn’t suggest putting one region against the other. Being in power, it has contributed on economic development, more so in the constituencies represented by its ministers. This makes them stand a chance of holding on their own. The party banking on this is pushing the card that it’s the only party which can save the interests of the Jammu region as the BJP can’t come to power on its own and will always be considered political pariah in the state.