In the changing political scenario, the ruling National Conference and Kashmir’s first political family of the Abdullahs are facing the heat. All NC candidates, including its patron Farooq Abdullah, had to bite the dust in the May Lok Sabha elections, in what may be the Abdullah Senior’s last poll battle.
With a “no show” in parliamentary elections, the state’s oldest political party might not be able to repeat its performance of 2008 assembly elections. With senior Abdullah fighting illness in London, chief minister Omar Abdullah is faced with one of the toughest battles in the history of the party.
The NC’s parent party Muslim Conference was founded in 1932 and it was rechristened as National Conference in 1939 by Sheikh Abdullah. The party had a free run in the state politics during the early years.
For decades after Indepen-dence, Sheikh dominated the electoral politics in the state as the tallest leader of Kashmir and had earned the epithet ‘Lion of Kashmir’.
The party, adopting dynasty politics, was subsequently led by Sheikh’s son Farooq Abdullah (1981-2002) and his son Omar Abdullah (2002-2009). Farooq was again made the president of the party in 2009.
The first major challenge after coming back to power post-Presidents rule in 1996, was the formation of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). PDP quickly started making inroads in the state politics, riding on anti-Abdullah sentiment during militancy years.
The PDP, led by former union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter and firebrand leader Mehbooba Mufti, gave the NC a tough time in 2002 elections when Abdullahs were voted out of power. Although NC was the largest political party, Congress supported the PDP to form government in the state, punishing the National Conference for siding with National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre.
Though PDP too was defeated by the Congress in 2008 assembly elections and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the balance again got tilted towards the PDP and the BJP in the May Lok Sabha elections.
While BJP won three seats in Jammu division, PDP managed to win all three in the Valley.
Making the situation worse for the NC, which had entered into a pre-poll seat sharing agreement with the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, its alliance with the Congress has now broken after much blame game in public.
The anti-incumbency may play spoil sport for the NC, besides the Abdullah government’s allegedly poor response to the devastating floods which hit the valley in September. Both the factors have heightened the public anger and mood against the NC. The party also has to face the ghosts of past such as the hanging of Afzal Guru, street agitation of 2010 in which 113 youths were killed, the detention of youths, failure to revoke Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), among others.
However, the party still hopes to cash in on the its traditional support base and strong cadre. While Jammu and Kashmir will see no formal alliances this election, NC is taking on PDP projecting “a secret pact with BJP” and invoking Modi phobia in Kashmir, which however did not work in May Lok Sabha elections.
Instead of seeking re-election for itself, NC is pitching the election as a ‘for and against Narendra Modi vote’.
“During the Lok sabha polls, NC did not highlight the work done in their regime. This strategy did not work. This time they will come up with something else,” said Prof Gul Wani, head of department in political science department of Kashmir University.
National Conference is starting the poll battle without their star campaigner and patron Farooq Abdullah, who is currently abroad for treatment and will be out of scene for quite some time.
Omar has already announced that Farooq will not contest assembly elections after his defeat in Lok Sabha elections. The party too, however, doesn’t seem to be worried much about his absence.
“Farooq Sahib has supporters across the state. They will surely vote for us. People love him so much they will vote just for his name,” said Mustafa Kamal, general secretary of the party.
The NC’s charismatic patriarch who had taken political sanyas in 2009 was projected as the chief ministerial candidate to revive flagging fortunes of the NC. While NC took the reins at the state, Farooq shifted to the Centre. But his defeat May Lok Sabha elections was the biggest upset not only for Farooq but also the party forcing Omar to take charge of the party.
“In the last few years Omar Abdullah has matured as a political leader. He has been running the party on his own.
While the opposition PDP has started its poll campaign with full fervour, NC is yet to get into the poll mode. Being the only party which favoured deferment of the polls, NC has reluctantly agreed to participate after the dates were declared.