Challenges ahead of J&K polls
Intro: Bharatiya Janata Party’s mission 44 plus to form its own government in J&K has agitated Omar Abdullah.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Chief Minister and working president of fundamentally sectarian National Conference (NC), Omar Abdullah, is, it appears, a disillusioned and broken-hearted politician. He is nervous and desperate, but, nothing is moving in the direction he wants to. Actually, it has been happening since September 2002, when his father and the then J&K Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, who was also the party president, virtually abdicated everything in favour of Omar. He had perhaps thought that time was opportune for Omar Abdullah’s succession. He was not content just with that, Senior Abdullah even chose not to contest the assembly election himself. He left the state for South Africa during the highly crucial fourth phase of the election and remained inactive during the entire election campaign for all practical purposes.
There was another opinion: Omar Abdullah brought off a coup against his father and captured the party. Young and foreign-educated but essentially reactionary and backward-looking Omar led the party’s campaign from the front, but with no result. NC’s tally in the assembly under his leadership was drastically reduced from 57 (two-third majority in the 87-member House) in 1996 to 28 in 2002 (less than 33 per cent of the total strength of the House). He himself lost the election to a candidate fielded by the newly-founded People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which contested the assembly election for the first time in 2002, and won 18 seats. The defeat of Omar’s and the NC, Kashmir’s premier political party, was all the more humiliating, because party lost in the Ganderbal assembly constituency which is considered to be Abdullah family’s bastion for many decades.
In 2008 assembly elections, Omar’s leadership again failed to click; the NC remained in opposition for six long years owing to its anti-people and anti-democratic policies. Again, the NC won only 28 seats. It’s a different matter that Congress President Sonia Gandhi parted company with the PDP to please her son Rahul Gandhi, who wanted his “friend” Omar to lead the sensitive J&K State. Sonia declared that she sacrificed her party’s interest in J&K in the larger “national interest”. (Earlier in 2002 as well, she had described her decision to hand over power to the PDP as a decision taken in national interest.)
In 2014, came another shock, NC lost all three Kashmir Lok Sabha (LS) seats with a huge margin. Farooq Abdullah lost the election by a huge margin of over 60,000 votes to the PDP candidate. It was this ignominious defeat in the just-held LS elections that has rattled Omar to the extent that he has practically lost his way.
It would be neither desirable nor possible to catalogue here all the statements that Omar Abdullah made after May 16— when BJP registered a historic win— following the footsteps of former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) supremo H D Deve Gowda, he declared that he would quit politics if the BJP won 44 seats independently in the coming assembly elections. “The day BJP gets majority in J&K assembly elections; I will take retirement from active politics and go into hibernation. I do not want to see that day nor will that day come in the future,” the frustrated, Omar Abdullah said.
But despite Omar's rants, BJP has bright electoral chances in the Valley. But to understand the ground realities in J&K and the strategy to achieve its Mission 44+ and form government on its own are some of the questions that BJP which created history by winning three LS seats in Jammu and Ladakh; and, has its support-base in at least 36 assembly constituencies needs to address.
Three factors can surely ensure BJP’s victory. First, ensure strong leadership, as the NC which secured only 9 per cent of the total popular votes polled in the LS election do not have a single leader, who can galvanize the party. Second, build trust among the people of Jammu and Ladakh who are vehemently opposed to the Congress and its leadership. They belive that Congress more than the NC is responsible for most of the ills facing the state. And, the third and important factor is the formation of a strong, stable and credible government at the centre.
-Hari Om(The writer is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu, Jammu)