With smaller parties and neo-politicians out to claim their pie in the electoral cake, the trend has the potential of offsetting the overall calculations and even altering results of J&K’s main stakeholders in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, reports Shah Abbas

Cover-PhotoPsephologists may have to wait a bit more to understand how the camel behaves in the biggest democratic dance of the world. Though the mandate is clearly fractured in the state, more so in Kashmir, there is every possibility that the smaller players can play a spoilsport to the extent that even results can have an impact. There are many players in Kashmir and also in Jammu who are out to prove their relevance to the society.

Take Abdul Rashid Sheikh, aka Engineer Rashid, for instance. As any poll agreement between his Awami Ittihad Party, (AIP) and the two arch rivals of Jammu and Kashmir: ruling National Conference (NC) and opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) failed to happen, Rashid decided to contest. An incumbent lawmaker representing north Kashmir Langate, Rashid has pitted himself against his neighbour Shareef-ud-Din Shariq, the NC’s incumbent MP, and Muzaffar Hussain Beig, PDP candidate and a former deputy chief minister.

The move has left both NC and PDP thinking about the possible disruptive role that AIP can play with its small vote share in the region.

Despite Rashid occupying the front page of newspapers routinely on daily basis – he also writes columns as well, is unlikely to wrest the seat from Shariq. But his presence in the electoral fray can affect vote share of bigger stakeholders like NC and PDP. Can it be decisive to alter the results?

Political commentators, who have been keenly observing Rashid’s rise as the ‘common man in politics’ believe that any alliance between AIP and PDP would have tilted balance in PDP’s favour. But despite backdoor efforts there could not be an agreement as the process threw up a series of disagreements.

Mehbooba Mufti and Dr Mehboob Beg
Mehbooba Mufti and Dr Mehboob Beg

“Our party was approached by both NC and PDP, and they sought our support but finally it was not possible,” a very active member of AIP revealed to Kashmir Life. “Our president seldom hides anything from the party and when he sought our opinion we told him that NC and PDP should know that Kashmir politics is not their property and there is no big difference between the two so how could we choose and select between them?”

Insiders in PDP admit there was an effort to get Rashid in support. “We got certain conditions of engagement discussed but then it seemed as if he was keen to retain his alliance with the NC, something he was in last time,” an insider said. “As the talk started walking, he got positive feelers from somewhere else so he was off the scene.”

This situation has converted Baramulla into an amphitheatre. Rashid is pitting against major stakeholders NC and PDP. Then, there is Abdul Salam Bajad, nominee of Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference. In 2009 elections, Lone, who had contested personally, had polled 65403 votes. NC had polled winning 203022 votes, defeating PDPs Dilawar Mir who secured 138208 votes.

Peoples’ Conference has its base housed in the region. In interesting twist that is rooted in history, when Abdul Gani Lone, Sajjad’s father was setting up the party in the region, Muzaffar Huassain Beig was part of his team. Even Rashid belongs to the same political stock. What impact will it have on the electorate, remains to be seen?

But Rashid says he will ensure 2014 to be different from 2009. Asserting that his base in his Langate is intact, Rashid’s AIP men say they have grown in Sopore, Handwara and Bandipora too.

The question is if AIP take X votes, will that be his own or that of NC or PDP? That is how the mandate will witness the suffering of a small player.

“Everybody knows that Engineer Sahab was in alliance with NC in 2009, but this time their alliance could not happen. As he is contesting himself this time, he will affect NC’s vote share, his earlier ally and not ours,” feels PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar. “We were not in alliance with anyone last time nor will we do it this time. What we got (votes) in 2009 was our own and what we will be getting this time is also ours.”

There are even chances of Congress’s voters not following Rahul-Omar. In Gurez, there is a rebellion going on and it is erstwhile NC MLA, now with Congress, Faqir Mohammad, who says his voters would prefer boycott rather than going with Shariq. Similar situation is seen in Uri’s Pahari pockets.

Dr  Farooq Abdullah and Tariq Hamid Karra
Dr Farooq Abdullah and Tariq Hamid Karra

But the small party crisis is not north-centric. Even Srinagar that has NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah pitted against PDPs Tariq Hamid Karra will have its share of this spectacle.

While AIPs, Rashid Rahil, (a news paper owner) is no big player, together with Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) RTI activist turned politician, Raja Muzaffar, NC can feel a bit of heat.

“Raja in the north of the constituency and Rahil in the south of it can disturb the overall results or minimize or maximize the margin of defeat or success,” a political commentator wishing anonymity said.

In 2009 Dr Farooq Abdullah defeated his PDP rival Molvi Ifkikhaar Hussain Ansari with a modest margin of 30242 votes. Farooq had polled 147035 and Ansari 116793 votes.

Party agendas apart, PDP thinks it will be NC President Dr Farooq Abdullah’s person that will be an issue apart from the performance of the coalition government. “People will definitely think about Dr Farooq’s perception vis-a-vis Kashmir and Kashmiris before voting,” Akhtar said. The opposition has been repeatedly talking about Dr Abdullah’s ‘Maha Choor’ comment for all these days. “His victory will be an endorsement of this statement,” says Karra.

But equations are entirely different down south. It is not just ‘a’ difference between Mehbooba versus Mehboob. For Mufti Sayeed whose daughter is seeking election from the region, it is a larger ideological battle. He has been retaining the region for his party since 2002 and defending it to the extent that NC still has just one assembly segment to its credit. In fact, PDP has all the segments except the four – one with NC, two with Congress and one with CPI (M).

PDP had this Lok Sabha segment in 2004 and even prior to that as well. But in 2009, it was wrested by Dr Mehboob Beig when he defeated Pir Hussain just by around 5000 votes. Then, NC’s Dr Baig polled 148317 votes and PDP got 143093. There were 13 candidates in the field and Islamabad had a total of 1176223 electors in 2009.

As Ms Mufti and Dr Beig are sure, in their own right, to win, political observers believe CPI (M)’s Yousuf Tarigami, who represents Kulgam in the state assembly for the last three consecutive terms, can play Rashid’s role. It can prove more decisive than in north. Both NC and PDP are said to be in touch with valley’s lone leftist face as they understand his importance in Islamabad constituency.

Muzaffar Hussain Beigh and Shariq ud din Shariq
Muzaffar Hussain Beigh and Shariq ud din Shariq

“It is final that our party is not going to contest Lok Sabha election but we are yet to decide about supporting or not to any contesting parties,” Tarigami told Kashmir Life. “Any final call will be taken once I reach Srinagar next week.”

What is interesting is that as the dance of India’s democracy jumped the mountains, roles change and change totally. NC is obviously missing in action because it has a tie-up with Congress. PDP, however, exists for the lack of an ally. But that does not prevent PDP from playing the same spoilsport to which it is confronted with back home. While PDP’s high-altitude ambition in Ladakh might be a tall order but it is contesting both the Jammu seats. It has Yesh Pal Sharma for Jammu-Poonch and an erstwhile NC contractor Arshad Malik for Udhampur-Doda as its candidates.

Till recently the TV channels in Delhi had given the two seats to BJP’s Dr Jitendera Singh and Jugal Kishore. But the situation has changed after party high command literally forced a reluctant Ghulam Nabi Azad to contest from his home segment. That has changed the situation totally.

Commentators see many happenings, apparently coincidental, going in Azad’s support.

Firstly, it is BJPs crisis within that is hitting its Udhampur prospects. At the time of fielding, it preferred RSS nominee Dr Singh over BJP’s old hand Nirmal Singh who lost it in 2009 just by a whisker. Later, when the BJP started talking to its rebels (seven MLAs), it got five back and sealed the return track of two including its veteran Prof Chaman Lal Gupta, who has served Udhampur twice in parliament and became MoS Defence in Vajpayee era.

A hurt Gupta fielded his son Anil Gupta. Given the support, Prof Gupta has in parts of Udhampur, it is obvious that his son will cut a share from BJPs kitty.

Secondly, Prof Bhim Singh, founder of the Panthers Party, can have a similar impact. Singh garnered almost 70,000 votes in 2009. This all will reduce the Hindu vote that BJP is harping on.

Dr Jeetindra Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad
Dr Jeetindra Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad

These developments will definitely consolidate the Muslim vote. But there was every chance that part of it would go to PDP because its candidate Arshad Malik has been there for a long time and has some influence. Given the conditions prevailing in the region, PDP, according to insiders, has gone slow. Mufti Sayeed has cancelled most of his engagements in the region after Azad filed his nominations. Sources said this was not done under an agreement but just as a good will gesture.

But that is not same role that PDP anticipates for itself in Jammu-Poonch seat. Here Congress’s Madan Lal Sharma is pitted against BJPs Jugal Kishore Sharma.

Congress’s both the candidates in last Lok Sabha, Lal Singh and Madan Lal have not been able to carry everybody along. The Muslim belts in the region were at the fag end of their properties. That was precisely why there was lot of resistance to the candidacy of Lal Singh that eventually forced High Command to send Azad to have his maiden Lok Sabha election from his home state.

Unlikely Lal Singh, Sharma was not changed. One factor is that he has a formidable position in Akhnoor, his home belt. He is pitted against BJP and both are non-Muslims. They lack an appeal in Pir Panchal valley where PDP has worked substantially over the year. There is possibility of PDP’s Yash Pal emerging second from the region.

In last elections, PDPs S Tarlok Singh secured 93730 votes from Jammu-Poonch against Madan Lal’s 382305 who defeated as many as 21 candidates.

Besides, Refugees United Front (RUF) and the Panthers Party are a concern for the established players like Congress and BJP. The RUF is an outfit of the Pakistani Hindus who are settled in parts of Jammu after 1947. RUF has fielded Labha Ram Gandhi from Jammu. The RUF has historically been with the Congress and NC but this time it has fielded its own candidate to counter PDP’s Yashpal Sharma, who is himself a Hindu from Pakistan.

A similar danger is lurking in Ladakh after Congress finally decided to field its Leh district president Tsering Samphel as the alliance candidate. Leh and Kargil districts have exhibited a strange relationship in Lok Sabha. It happened twice that when a party decided to field a candidate from Leh, Kargil fielded an independent and won. Even Leh did this once.

Given the crisis that Congress and NC are embattled in Kargil’s LAHDC, the possibility of Kargil emerging with its own ‘independent’ cannot be ruled out.

Mandate is highly fractured in J&K. As people start dancing to the tunes of democracy, it fractures further.


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