Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Countdown to the Battle for Srinagar



State Assembly election in J&K is not a local event: it is not only analysed by national and international Kashmir watchers and pundits but also has implications beyond the confines of the state. Elections to the state assembly are not declared, and yet the political rumblings have already begun in Kashmir. The ruling coalition fired the first shot by agreeing to enter into a divorce of convenience. The National Conference (NC) does not want to be seen in the company of the Congress party anymore, because the latter, for a lot of Kashmiris, represents the arrogance of New Delhi, and rightly so. Congress party comes to Kashmir with a heavy burden of the past, of terrible and unforgivable mistakes. The NC, which was often at the receiving end of the Congress party’s soulless politics in Kashmir and the brazen tactics used by it to gain power in Srinagar, clearly does not want to go to the people seeking votes with the Congress in tow. But after a neat political arrangement that benefitted both sides for close to six years, even as it did not benefit the state, can the two now really keep this relationship off the minds of the Kashmiri voter? 

For the Congress too, this divorce makes a lot of sense. While both the Congress and the NC presided over an unabashedly corrupt regime in Srinagar for six years now, the Congress gets to point fingers at the NC especially when it gets down to electioneering in the coming months. And it can state with such innocence: ‘we are not responsible for the rampant corruption in the state because the NC was running the government’! Or so it hopes. 

Moreover, given that it sees itself as the only party that can put up a serious fight against BJP in the Jammu province (which has 37 seats), it would benefit the Congress to go to the Jammuites “minus” the ‘taint’ of Omar Abdullah’s well choreographed and widely televised outbursts on Article 370 and ASFPA. This “running with the hare and hunting with the hound” strategy that the Congress is likely to use in Jammu, combined with the usual arguments about ridding J&K of corruption (for which, of course, NC is responsible!) and deterring the spread of RSS fascism by upholding the values of secularism in Jammu (which only Congress can do!), the Congress leadership in the state believes, will increase its gains in the upcoming election.  

My word of advise to the Congress party is this: whatever may be the final outcome of the 2014 Assembly elections, they should try hard, however difficult it may be, to resist the temptations of grabbing power in Srinagar, just like it did after the two previous elections in the state (and many times previously). Congress party’s devious designs to grab power in the state are legendary and have greatly contributed to the current state of affairs in J&K. Congress should keep itself out of office, and support, if need be, a truly local party to form the next government in J&K.

Can the separatists rethink their politics? 
The political decisions of the Valley’s separatist parties would make a significant difference to the electoral outcome in the upcoming elections. They have a number of political choices before them, both constructive and unproductive. Just like they did in previous years, they can completely shun the process and give a boycott call, extend some under-the-table support to individual candidates, or alternatively articulate a political choice and back it up with a sound political rationale. Clearly, the support base of the separatists are eroding by the day and, as a result, their politics will soon be irrelevant in the larger context of Kashmir’s political future. The only way, to my mind, they can continue to be relevant to the emerging political landscape in Kashmir is by clearly articulating their support for one or the other mainstream political parties in Kashmir, without giving up their essential stance, of course. Even better, they could decide to contest a few seats from their strongholds in Kashmir. But I don’t think they will do that.  

The real question is how long can the Mirwaizes and Yaseen Maliks remain outside the mainstream political developments in Kashmir and how long, by doing so, can they keep their politics alive. I suspect not too long. Hence the upcoming election is an opportune moment for them to take a relook at their brand of politics and its future. The reason why BJP is steadily increasing its vote share in J&K is because the Kashmiri separatists nudge their supporters not to vote in the elections. Given that the BJP is seriously readying itself to come to power in Srinagar, by any and all means, the separatists should make up their mind now or by the time they decide to stop the saffron tide towards Srinagar, it would be too late to do so.

(Next Week: “A performance audit of the National Conference Government”). 

(Source: Greater Kashmir, 03 AUGUST 2014. URL: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2014/Aug/3/countdown-to-the-battle-for-srinagar-16.asp)

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