Omar, Mehbooba: United In Loss


The just concluded Lok Sabha saw two former Chief Ministers losing an election for the first time. Babra Wani attempts an explanation

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Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti during August 15 celebrations at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium in Srinagar. PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR

“I think it’s time to accept the inevitable. Congratulations to Engineer Rashid for his victory in North Kashmir,” former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took to his official X handle on June 4, at a time when the counting trends were visibly showing the outcome, and accepted his defeat.  “I don’t believe his victory will hasten his release from prison nor will the people of North Kashmir get the representation they have a right to but the voters have spoken and in a democracy that’s all that matters.”

Omar was contesting in the polls from the Baramulla constituency where he was pitted in a triangular contest against jailed politician Engineer Rasheed and Sajad Lone, a BJP-supported candidate. Eventually, Omar lost and Lone survived forfeiture of his deposit by emerging the No 3.

It was not Omar alone, who lost. Another former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti also lost her election to JKNC leader and Gujjar spiritual leader Mian Altaf, again by a huge margin. At some point in time when Home Minister, Amit Shah visited Srinagar at the peak of campaigning and avoided staying at Nehru Guest House and the Raj Bhawan, a rumour was around that the Government of India was “concerned” at the prospect of two former Chief Minister’s reaching the Lok Sabha. Results ensured that neither of the two moved out of Srinagar.

As the vote counting was at an advanced stage and she trailed too far, she realised her defeat. “Respecting the verdict of the people I thank my PDP workers & leaders for their hard work & support despite all the odds,” she wrote on X. “My deepest gratitude to the people who voted for me. Winning & losing is part of the game & won’t deter us from our path.” Added her daughter Iltija Mufti: “Our journey of rebuilding PDP has only begun & Inshallah we will fulfil Mufti sahab’s vision.”

Many Firsts

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections saw many firsts in Jammu and Kashmir. It was the first time since the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, that an election took place in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was the first time a jailed leader won here and the first time that two former chief ministers lost in their battle. Mufti lost in her home ground only, while Omar lost in a new constituency, his fourth ever since he joined politics.

However, JKNC, his party won two major seats, one from Srinagar and another one where Mufti lost, Anantnag-Rajouri. And for the JKNC winners too it was for the first time that they contested the Parliamentary elections and made their maiden wins. The party also won Ladakh even though it was managed by its workers by coming out of the party formally, for the sake of record.

Abdullah’s Loss

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Omar’s JKNC had emerged victorious winning three seats, the number was reduced to just two in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Instead of contesting from Srinagar, he decided to contest from Baramulla where his rival Sajad Lone of People’s Conference accused him of being a “tourist”.

Initially, it was looking like a black-and-white contest between Omar and Lone. The dynamics of the space changed when Engineer Rasheed of Awami Itehad Party, who is currently in Tihar Jail under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act charges, decided to contest as an independent candidate. Rasheed became a new favourite and witnessed a mass level of campaigning. Rasheed managed to seal the deal with more than 4.7 lakh votes. Against Omar’s 25.94 per cent of the vote share, Rasheed bagged 45.75 per cent of the vote.

Mufti’s Defeat

In the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, however, NC’s Mian Altaf won against another former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. She lost by more than two lakh votes from an area that had the projection of being PDP’s bastion.

However, the redrawn constituency that straddles the Pir Panchal mountain range, which was once termed Omar as “the cancer of the party (JKNC)”, gave it a huge victory. Of all the five Lok Sabha berths in Jammu and Kashmir, Mian managed to gain the highest lead. For Mian, it was for the first time in his political career, that he moved out of his home turf and won.

Unlike Mian, Mufti has won and lost the constituency twice. Her wins were during the Lok Sabha polls of 2004 and 2014, while her first loss came in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when JKNC had clenched the seat with Mufti pushed to the third rank. However, she improved her rank this time and clenched the runner-up title, while JKNC continued to maintain its winning streak.

What makes a remarkable difference is that it is not the same Lok Sabha constituency where Mufti lost in 2019. Unlike in 2004 and 2014, Poonch and Rajouri were not part of the constituency. This fetched the winner a huge advantage over Mufti.

Mufti even accused him of playing the religion card, as Mian Altaf is not only a politician but a revered spiritual leader for the Gujjar-Bakerwaal community as well and the Rajouri-Poonch belt is dominated by their population.

“It is wrong to play Peer-Mureed (spiritual leader and disciple), which is a noble relationship not driven by vote bank politics. Religion should not be brought into politics,” Mufti had said in many of her gatherings. “What I observed after meeting various delegations, is one community (Gujjars) is afraid of the fatwa politics, and the other (Pahari) community fears being harassed at the hands of the administration if it openly comes out in support of PDP.”

While these remained the realities of this constituency, the larger reality is that Mufti lost in areas where the “religious card” was missing. Indications that Paharis were willing to vote for her also proved incorrect. This was a trend across Kashmir. PDP ended runners-ups in Srinagar and Anantnag-Rajouri and was a distant fourth in Baramulla.

PAGD Fallout

Former allies and members of now erstwhile People’s Alliance on Gupkar Declaration, (PAGD) both JKNC and PDP have been at loggerheads since the alliance breathed its last earlier this year. The two parties contested together along with Sajad Lone’s party and CPI (M) for the DDC elections as a part of the alliance. They are members of the INDIA bloc alliance too.

The alliance broke when the Lok Sabha polls were announced and Omar Abdullah suddenly decided against seat-sharing with the PDP. The reasons stated were personal attacks and the PDP’s poor performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “We are often (being) asked why not give the South Kashmir seat to PDP, why cannot they contest in the elections from there?” Omar said. “How can this happen and what kind of politics is it that the party which achieved the third rank in the last elections should be allowed to contest, while number one and two parties should leave their claim? And that too for the seat which is not under any influence or threat from BJP?”

File image of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

These statements were retaliated and Mehbooba addressed a press conference putting on record her disappointment. “I believe that only people can help us now, as they hold the ultimate decision-making power and it is very important for us to raise our voice in the parliament,” she said.

She also asserted that PAGD had chosen Farooq Abdullah as their representative. Every time a decision was taken in the PAGD, Farooq Abdullah would take everyone on board and inform everyone by calling or gathering them. “This time while taking this huge decision, he did not consider us. He just stated that the PDP stands nowhere in the alliance. But had he told us or informed us about their decision to contest all three seats, we may have approved of it or at least been aware enough.”

PDP leader asserted her party was ready to make the sacrifice for unity. “What difference would one seat make to us? It does not make any difference, but I think that the hope that the people of Kashmir had in the PAGD alliance or the INDIA alliance has been left brutally dejected through this decision of the National Conference. The last hope of the people has been shattered by the own members of PAGD.”

The blame game continued. It had its own share of criticism as well. Omar said it publicly that alliances require respect, a parameter PDP breached many times. “PAGD was influenced by external pressures, particularly from Delhi, aiming to create rifts among political parties in Jammu and Kashmir,” JKNC winner Aga Ruhullah said. “To understand why PAGD fell apart, we need some serious self-reflection. I encourage journalists to dig deep and critically examine the events that led to its dissolution.”

Many political analysts believe that the dissolution of PAGD was a reason too, that both the former chief ministers tasted defeat. “Maybe had PAGD been intact, the losses may have not so devastating for both of them,” one analyst said. “The fall of PAGD was being seen by people as the failure of the political class in Jammu and Kashmir to help the state have a unanimous voice even though the parties are talking almost on the same terms. That is perhaps they all lost – Omar, Mehbooba, Sajad Lone, Waheed Parra and Congress in Jammu.”

People in Baramulla spoke loudly against the erstwhile PAGD leaders deliberately avoiding talking about the Engineer, the controversial politician whom they sent to Lok Sabha with a huge vote load.

Lal Chowk Sees First Native Politician Rally After 2019 when PDP’s Waheed Parra took a good crowd through the ciy square while on his way to file nomination for LS polls on April 24, 2024.

People’s Reasons

Some people believe that for the two Chief Ministers lost because they had contributed to their defeat. In north Kashmir, it was very popular that JKNC MP Akbar Lone asked five questions in five years. “He failed to contribute positively to the region. He remained bound to Sumbal Sonawari in terms of development, neglecting other areas across north Kashmir,” one voter, who polled for Engineer said. “This lack of progress was a significant source of frustration among the local populace. Despite being elected, he attended only a few sessions.”

According to PRS Legislative Research, Lone’s attendance was just 41 per cent, significantly lower than the national and state averages, “Clearly, these factors have damaged the reputation of the NC.” Not many people know, however, that he was unwell and continues to be so.

Also, among all candidates, Engineer emerged as the preferred choice. Even Sajad Lone labelled Omar Abdullah a “tourist,” and young voters echoed this sentiment, questioning whether the JKNC would deceive them again by nominating Omar as the north Kashmir candidate. “The faith that the NC once held among voters in north Kashmir has dwindled. Young voters, both male and female, have outright rejected their symbol.”

Peerzada Owais, 30, said Omar Abdullah was “arrogant” while campaigning, “he was not as approachable, as easily accessible as Engineer sahab is. So obviously we did not vote for him. The young voters of our region understood right from wrong and hence our choice was very clear. Engineer sahab is our choice, because he was always humble to help us, compared to Omar.”  Engineer, it may be recalled here, is in jail and Peerzada was referring to his sons, both of whom are students.

Issues with PDP

The PDP whose fateful alliance with BJP was the last ruling structure continues to face the anger of the people. A presumption is that if there would not have been an alliance with the rightwing party, the situation that emerged in Kashmir after the 2018 summer might not have been there. This narrative is being encouraged and even endorsed by the JKNC publicly.

“Her stark standing on separatists was an issue,” a south Kashmir student, who did not vote for Mehbooba this time. “More importantly, she was too complacent. This is the reason why Mian Altaf defeated her on her home turf.”

Fida, another Anantnag resident, said Mufti was not ‘deserving this much’. “Every political party needs a strong candidate upon whom they can rely and PDP has no such candidate,” he said. “Had Mufti Syed been alive then things would have been different for the party.”

Dr Farooq Abdullah addresses Provincial Committee meeting at Nawa-e-Subah

That PDP has a history of having a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and a proper partner agreement for governance is hardly being noticed. PDP ruled Jammu and Kashmir in partnership with Congress after they arrived at a CMP. In 2015, they formed the government with the BJP based on the Agenda of Alliance that stopped the BJP from touching the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. In public discourse, it hardly matters as it was the PDP partner that undid Jammu and Kashmir as a state, abrogated Article 370 and is ruling with impunity.

In the last five years, the PDP has been crying that they are the principal targets of the systemic annihilation as a party. During campaigning, they also talked about losing 40 of their senior leaders. Given the outcome of the polls, the people are unwilling to listen to these arguments.

Data: Lok Sabha 2024 Results In Jammu and Kashmir

Voter Turnout

Compared to the last 35 years, the Lok Sabha polls of 2024 witnessed the highest public participation and the total Voter Turnout (VTR) at the polling stations for Jammu and Kashmir (5 Lok Sabha seats) was 58.46 per cent. The three Kashmir seats: Srinagar, Baramulla, and Anantnag-Rajouri witnessed the greatest turnout in three decades, with 38.49 per cent, 59.1 per cent, and 54.84 per cent, respectively. In the previous Lok Sabha polls of 2019, the VTR was 49.3 per cent.

Besides, the Abrogation of Article 370, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 was implemented and Delimitation became necessary increasing the number of seats in the Assembly. Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu’s Pir Panjal region, which were formerly part of the Jammu parliamentary seat, were later added to the Anantnag seat in Kashmir, many believe that the Delimitation process helped in the winning of the NC leader in the constituency too.

What is interesting is that the BJP is claiming credit for the defeat of two former Chief Ministers. They say they have been campaigning against the dynasties and their narrative has worked and people have voted them out.


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