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HindustanTimes Sat,22 Nov 2014

After worst ever rout, NC's alliance with Cong on sticky wicket

Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times  Srinagar, May 16, 2014
First Published: 22:30 IST(16/5/2014) | Last Updated: 23:11 IST(16/5/2014)

While the Congress faced its worst rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the results of which were declared on Friday, the Abdullahs of the National Conference in Kashmir were also in for their most humiliating defeat ever. The NC and its coalition partners could not even open their account in Jammu and Kashmir.

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The results saw two political stalwarts biting the dust - NC's flamboyant patriarch Farooq Abdullah who faced his first electoral defeat since he joined politics in 1980s and Congress heavyweight Ghulam Nabi Azad who was brought in to stop the Modi juggernaut.
Jitendra Singh defeated Azad by a huge margin of over 50,000 votes from the Udhampur parliamentary seat.

Read more: Rude shock for big guns in J&K, as Abdullah and Azad lose

Read more: Live: Farooq Abdullah loses family bastion to PDP's Tariq Hameed Karra

However, the biggest upset for the coalition was the defeat of senior Abdullah. He lost from the Srinagar constituency which has been the family's bastion since 1983.

Tariq Hameed Karra, apparently a political lightweight, got 1,57,546 votes as compared with the NC patron's 1,15,363 votes, The margin was huge considering Srinagar is often referred to as a VIP constituency given the fact that Abdullah contests from there.
The Abdullahs had to fight charges of bad governance, rising unemployment levels and killings and turmoil during two consecutive summers. Moreover, Omar Abdullah's critics have been accusing him of being "aloof and disconnected with people".

The Lok Sabha election was a presage whether the two coalition partners will continue their tie-up during the assembly elections due in November this year.

The anti-incumbency factor being the proverbial elephant in the room, the Lok Sabha campaign of the Abdullahs pivoted around "national issues" pertaining to minority rights and stopping the "anti-Muslim" BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi from coming to power which failed to strike a chord with the voters.

However, the NC's archrival, PDP, dubbed their rhetoric as a convenient escape route.

"They have nothing to show and hence they made Modi an issue," PDP spokesman Nayeem Akhtar had told Hindustan Times before the results.
Speaking to mediapersons after the results were declared, chief minister Omar Abdullah said, "The PDP raised local issues such as 2010 turmoil and hanging of Afzal Guru while we focused more on central issues. We should have highlighted our achievements in the last five years."

Drawing inferences from the PDP's apparent overtures towards the BJP, the NC tried to take on the opposition alleging the former had a secret pact with the saffron party, particularly after PDP's public praise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government.

To limit the influence of the PDP in Kashmir and the BJP in Jammu region, the NC entered into a pre-poll seat sharing agreement with the Congress hoping that the alliance may also help them stem the tide of anti-incumbency to an extent.

Soon after polling was over, NC leaders started accusing the Congress of not working in tandem. Omar's uncle and party spokesman Dr Mustafa Kamal even blamed the Congress workers for voting in favour of the PDP.

Even before the alliance, a section of the Congress led by JKPCC president Saifuddin Soz had appealed to the party high command to go on its own.
A senior National Conference leader said, "We were badly let down by the Congress. We supported it but their support was by compulsion. Did you ever hear Congress state president Saifuddin Soz utter a word against the PDP?" he said.

Once the PDP's campaign gathered momentum, it broke into the traditional strongholds of the National Conference. Mehbooba Mufti emerged strong in south Kashmir while another PDP stalwart Muzaffar Beigh got good support in the north.

The traditional vote bank of the NC, the youth seemed disillusioned. Youths were seen voting for change in places like in Ganderbal (part of Srinagar constituency and an Abdullah stronghold), Kangan and parts of the old city of Srinagar.

The counting revealed that the PDP ate into a lion's share of votes in traditional NC bastions such as Khanyar in the old city.
Riding high on anti-incumbency, Mehbooba Mufti had emerged a force to reckon with in 2002.

The PDP successfully invaded into Kupwara, Tangmarg, Sumbal and even Sonawari in north Kashmir, another National Conference stronghold. 
"`Omar Abdullah has to climb a tall mountain in the next six months. Let us see what happens," said a party leader.

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