Abdullahs fight a grim battle in Jammu and KashmirDecember 26th, 2008 - 2:33 pm ICT by IANS
Srinagar, Dec 26 (IANS) The Jammu and Kashmir elections, which ended peacefully with a surprisingly high voter turnout of 63 percent, is going to be an acid test for the Abdullah family that has lorded over the country’s only Muslim-majority state for decades.All eyes are on the election results to be declared Sunday. Analysts are predicting another hung 87-member legislative assembly, with no single party getting a majority.
The main contenders for power are the Congress, the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), determined to do well in the Hindu majority Jammu region, could emerge as a key player.
The father-son duo, Farooq and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, are confident about their party returning to power that it so dramatically lost in 2002, heralding the state’s first coalition government in the form of a Congress-PDP alliance.
There is no doubt the National Conference is winning, Omar Abdullah, the party chief, maintained throughout his campaign.
But most analysts here believe that it is going to be a tough battle for the National Conference, Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest party which held sway over the Muslim population for decades until the PDP became a serious political player from the mid-1990s.
Gul Ahmed, who teaches political science at the University of Kashmir at Hazratbal, says the National Conference appeared to be fighting for survival - notwithstanding the fact that it finished as the single largest party after the 2002 assembly elections.
“They (Abdullahs) are themselves not sure of their victory. Otherwise Farooq wouldn’t have scurried at the last minute to file papers for a second seat from Srinagar,” said Ahmed.
Farooq Abdullah contested from Sonwar and Hazratbal constituencies of Srinagar. Omar fought from the party’s former bastion, north Kashmir’s Ganderbal, where he surprisingly lost to a PDP candidate in 2002.
The iconic Sheikh Abdullah, the National Conference founder, ruled Jammu and Kashmir off and on till his death in 1982. His son Farooq succeeded him and was chief minister thrice (1982-84, 1987-90 and 1996-2002).
Omar is today a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament.
“Regaining lost power is going to be difficult for the most distinguished family of Kashmir,” added Bashir Manzar, editor of an English daily here.
That may or may not be true but Farooq Abdullah betrayed some of his uncertainty when he accused separatists of covertly helping the PDP.
The senior Abdullah took many by surprise when he publicly denounced pro-Pakistan separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who had otherwise called for an election boycott, for reportedly asking the Jamaat-e-Islami cadres in south Kashmir to vote for PDP.
The PDP is expected to benefit in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley even if it doesn’t bag a single seat from even the Muslim areas of the Jammu region.
The high turnout in the elections, especially in rural areas, has surprised the National Conference, said Raouf Rasool, who teaches peace and conflict resolution at the Islamic Institute of Science and Technology.
“Low turnouts would have perhaps meant a convenient victory for the cadre-based National Conference,” Rasool said.
Many believe that the PDP and Congress have a tacit understanding to form another coalition government.
“The two parties fell out over the Amarnath land controversy but they did not snap ties in New Delhi,” Manzar pointed out. “This is significant.”
Not just that but foreign minister and Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee recently hailed the coalition rule with the PDP as a ’success’ even though the government fell before completing its term. He made the remarks in the middle of the electoral process in which the Congress and PDP were rivals.
Unlike in the past, many voters in Srinagar, the urban hub of the separatist campaign, appeared to be comfortable with a Congress-led government, mainly on account of its chief ministerial candidate, Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Kashmiri Muslim from the Jammu region.
“I wish my vote seals the victory of the Congress,” said Syed Mubarik, 38. “Azad’s government was a clean one. He did what they (Abdullahs) couldn’t achieve in 50 years.
“He fought a real jehad against corruption. He initiated development. It was a sheer bad luck that Congress didn’t last the full term,” said Mubarik.
It is a sentiment many share in the Kashmir Valley, once the fiefdom of the Abdullah family. That should worry the National Conference.