Jammu and Kashmir’s largest political party was formed in 1932 by Sheikh Abdullah as ‘Muslim Conference’ and rechristened as ‘National Conference’ (NC) in 1939.
For decades after Independence, Sheikh dominated the electoral scene and was considered as the tallest leader the state had ever seen. The party was subsequently led by Sheikh’s son Farooq Abdullah (1981-2002) and then by Farooq’s son Omar (2002-2009). Farooq was made the president of the party again in 2009.
The first major challenge after returning to power in 1996, post-President’s rule, was the newly-formed People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was making inroads, riding on anti-Abdullah sentiment during militancy years.
Led by former union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the party’s firebrand leader and Sayeed’s daughter Mehbooba Mufti made a dent when the Abdullahs were voted out in 2002. Though PDP failed to repeat the feat in the 2008 assembly elections and in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the opposition, however, seems to have made inroads again this time.
With an aim to clip the wings of both the PDP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kashmir and the Jammu region, respectively, the NC entered into a pre-poll agreement with the Congress.
Though anti-incumbency may play spoilsport for the ruling coalition, their alliance gives them an edge cashing in on the traditional support base. While no other party has a formal alliance, the NC is trying to take on the opposition, suggesting a secret pact with the BJP following the PDP’s public praises for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government.
In a strategic move, the party, instead of seeking re-election, is pitching in this election as a ‘for or against Narendra Modi madate’.
The National Conference is leading the poll brigade with their star candidate and patron Farooq Abdullah contesting from ‘VIP’ constituency of Srinagar. Srinagar is the face of the tourist hub and has been an NC bastion since 1967- except for 1971 when Srinagar was represented by an Independent.
Out of all six Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, the Srinagar constituency has been in limelight since 1998, because of being represented by Omar Abdullah, who after becoming chief minister vacated the seat for his father.
Farooq Abdullah, who had taken political ‘sanyas’, was brought back in 2009 as the NC chief ministerial candidate to revive the flagging fortunes of the party. While the NC took over the reign of the state, Farooq shifted to the Centre after winning the ‘trophy constituency’ from the Valley. Farooq who is seeking a re-election, seems to be heading for a victory.
Experts says less voting percentage in Srinagar as compared to rest of the Valley works in favour of the NC, as voting happens in traditional NC support bases. However, it is in north Kashmir’s Baramulla and south Kashmir’s Anantnag constituency, where the party faces tough fight.
In Baramulla, PDP’s Muzaffar Hussain Baig, former deputy chief minister, is fighting sitting MP and NC-Congress candidate Sharief-ud-Din Shariq. Although the PDP has fielded one of its most powerful candidates - Baig, the NC seems to have a slight edge over the PDP. The traditional supporters of the Congress and NC together can make things difficult for the PDP.
PDP has failed to make inroads in NC’s bastion like Handwara and Kupwara districts. While Shariq has his own supporter base in Sopore and Baramulla district, Congress hot beds like Kupwara, Handwara might vote in his favour too. The coalition can also benefit from the split in the opposition. Uri in north Kashmir would be a deciding factor, as it is the NC-Congress hotbed.
However other factors like Awami Ittehad Party (AIP) contestant Engineer Rashid, whose supporters reportedly voted for the NC candidate last time, might eat into the NC’s vote share.
Another factor is that of the Peoples Conference (PC). In 2009, former separatist Sajjad Lone was on number three with 60,000 votes. Since the party’s present candidate Abdul Salam is not that strong, some of the party’s votes might go to PDP.
Three figures hold the key to success in north Kashmir. AIP president Engineer Rasheed and Peoples Conference’s Abdul Salam Bagad, who netted nearly 60,000 votes in the previous polls, may tilt the tide against NC.
It is however the Anantnag constituency in south which remains a weak link for the party. PDP has entered the fray with party president Mehbooba Mufti against sitting MP Mehboob Beg. Mehbooba has an edge being a native of the area, besides the Opposition will work on the anti-incumbency factor.
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.
While pre-poll alliance has raised NC’s graph in the last one month; unpredictability in north Kashmir, Afzal Guru hanging, and the youth killings in 2010 will make a clean sweep very difficult.