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Friday, March 17, 2017

PDP in power but contesting elections in worst ever conditions

Tassaduq’s entry raises PDP’s stake; Jamaat’s boycott in South Kashmir, Gujjar-Shia vote in low-turnout polling in Central Kashmir pivotal

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


Jammu, Mar 16: The fact that the principal opposition parties National Conference (NC) and Congress have combined and fielded their senior most leaders in the State in 1:1 arrangement in the by-elections on two important Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir valley reveals the seriousness of the interim exercise being held in two years of the general elections. Remarkably, the ruling PDP-BJP coalition in contrast has harnessed two greenhorns, both junior most in the ranks, in the election that would definitely have a bearing not only on the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and Assembly elections of 2020 but also on the Mufti dynasty’s grip on the single largest party.

Farooq Abdullah, the State’s highest profile political leader, who lost his 35-year-long career’s first election to then PDP candidate Tariq Hamid Karra in 2014, is yet again NC’s candidate in Srinagar-Budgam-Ganderbal seat. With the support of Congress, he is in the fray against PDP’s Nazir Ahmad Khan. On Congress ticket, Khan had given a tough fight to NC’s Chief Ministerial candidate Omar Abdullah in the Assembly elections of 2014 in Beerwah. Less than a month ago, Khan shifted from Congress to the PDP. His father Sarfaraz Khan had won from Beerwah on PDP’s ticket in 2002 and later served as a Minister in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Council of Ministers.

With one difference, there is an identical contest in the South Kashmir seat, comprising Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian districts. While the opposition has fielded the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir, who has served as a Cabinet Minister twice and in the post-2002 era lost only once from his home segment of Dooru, PDP’s Mufti Tassaduq is just three-month-old in the party. Unlike Nazir Khan, he however has the distinction of being the former Chief Minister and the PDP founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s only son.

Tassaduq was basically an accomplished cinematographer in United States of America before he shot into prominence with his Bollywood magnum opus ‘Omkara’. Hardly anybody knew him in Jammu and Kashmir until the day he attended his father’s funeral in January 2016. Being baptized into politics with his maiden election, Tassaduq would arguably hold the key to the Mufti dynasty’s influence over the party. His victory could pave his way one day to the hot seat of power but his defeat, in the most hostile ambience, could not only cause fissures in PDP but also lend superiority in the coalition to BJP that would find it easier to accomplish its political agenda in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We have never before contested any election in such a hostile atmosphere but we are still hopeful that our arch rival NC has little capacity and cadre to make inroads in South Kashmir”, said a senior PDP leader, insisting to be anonymous. “Notice that Mehbooba Ji gave a crushing defeat to NC in the Assembly by-election (in Anantnag) last June”.

Ghulam Ahmad Mir, contrarily, claims that with the NC support---as also possible support from the CPM MLA Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami---he would win “hands down” this time in South Kashmir. “They have killed and left injured most of the 90-odd people in South Kashmir in the last 8 months of turmoil. That’s fresh on everybody’s mind. They are being despised for their saffron label and being bedfellows with BJP and RSS. Besides, their government has failed on all fronts---governance, development, employment, restoration of peace. Who on earth will come out to vote for them?”, Mir asserted.

That is not the PDP’s only problem in the current situation. Factionalism seems to have touched its zenith as the family coterie in which Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s mother, maternal uncle Sartaj Madni and brother Tassaduq are the most important characters, has emerged as a parallel power centre. A number of the senior leaders have been heard whispering against Madni, Peerzada Mansoor and the all-important Works Minister Naeem Akhtar. Estranged Minister Maulvi Imran Ansari’s MLA uncle Maulvi Abid Ansari has publicly assailed Akhtar for “presiding over mischiefs” when the young Shia leader failed to get a portfolio of his choice in the recent reshuffle.

Even as the most important of the estranged leaders, Syed Altaf Bukhari, has been lately inducted back into the Cabinet and given a prestigious portfolio, MLAs Javed Mustafa Mir (Chadoura), Abdul Majid Paddar (Noorabad) and Mohammad Ashraf Mir (Sonwar) are still perceived to be upset as none of them has been brought back as Minister. Mehbooba had dropped them when she succeeded her father in April 2016. Even late Mufti’s loyal Abdul Rehman Veeri has gone into hibernation after his prestigious Works portfolio was shifted to Akhtar.

Two more of the PDP’s MLAs, namely Mohammad Khalil Bandh (Pulwama) and Abdul Rahim Rather (Kokernag) are also known to have shown little enthusiasm in mobilising their cadres after announcement of the elections.

Possessing impressive organisational capacities, Mehbooba, nevertheless, is expected to keep her flock together and make it deliver. Significantly, it remains to be seen whether she would give in to Imran Ansari’s pressure and give him a better portfolio or stand firm to keep her own prestige.

In South Kashmir, much would depend on Jamaat-e-Islami’s behaviour as its cadres this time around would not find it easy to tilt the balance in PDP’s favour as they are known to have done with 70-80% boycott and 20-30% voting in almost all elections after 1998. NC’s traditional bête noire, Jamaat, though not contesting elections after 1989, has a substantial concentration in Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam districts. “It will be seen as open treason this time. None of us will turn out to cast a vote”, said a senior Jamaat leader, though he disputed claims that his party had supported PDP in several elections post-1990.

In the Assembly elections of 2014, PDP had won 11 seats while as NC and Congress had bagged two each in South Kashmir. CPM retained its one-odd seat of Kulgam. NC had fared slightly better in its traditional bastion of Central Kashmir as it had retained 7 seats against equal number by PDP. PDF Chairman had retained his seat in Khansahab. Like Tarigami in South, Yasin is expected to support the NC-Congress alliance in Central Kashmir.

This time around, in Central Kashmir, the opposition is chiefly relying on a substantial committed chunk of Gujjar and Shia voters who, in defiance of the separatists’ boycott calls, have the history of turning up at polling station ahead of all. As Ansari’s Shia followers are still undecided but pretty upset, both factions of the Aghas of Budgam are known to be the NC supporters. In Kangan and Ganderbal, besides in two segments in Budgam, the Gujjar vote being mobilised by senior NC leader and MLA Kangan Mian Altaf Ahmad could be pivotal for Dr Abdullah whose mother was also Gujjar.

Even as much would depend on the actual turnout---expected to be 20-25% in Central Kashmir and 15-20% in South Kashmir---Dr Abdullah, defeated by then PDP’s Karra in 2014, has clearly better prospects in Srinagar. It is an irony that this time Karra would be campaigning for Dr Abdullah. In the thick of last year’s turmoil, he had quit PDP for what he called “brutality” of security forces. He has lately joined Congress.

PDP’s significant advantage is that this party currently is ruling the State in partnership with BJP and controlling the official machinery.



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