Out of Touch

With just 15 seats NC is reduced to a new low in Kashmir’s troubled politics. A party that once was the only legitimate voice of the people is now struggling to stay relevant in the changing political amphitheatre of Kashmir. Saima Bhat reports the ups and downs

Nawai-Subuh-Complex
National Conference workers at its headquarter Nawai Subuh. File Photo

From all 75 seats in 1952 state assembly elections to just 15 seats in 2014, Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest political party, the National Conference seems to have lost its ‘identity’ from many regions of the state. For many, NC was not only about politics, it was part of ‘faith’. A ‘resolve’ and a ‘movement’.

Since its inception, NC’s popularity is rooted in its ideology that revolves round issues like: resolution of Kashmir issue, complete Autonomy for the state and/or Pre-1953 position.

But in recent elections these traditional stands failed to involve voters to the extent that they will cast their votes in NC’s favour. Rather the yardstick has changed to developmental related issues.  Thus the electoral process in Kashmir remained confined to day-to-day affairs of governance concerning local issues.

That is why NC’s working president and former CM Omar Abdullah was quick to find solace in just 15 seats that his party won in recently held elections.  As soon as the general assembly election 2014 results were announced Omar tweeted, “Expectations were hyped & twisted to such an extent that now 17 feels like a victory & 28 a defeat. Go figure!!!!!”

The shift in voters thinking – from ideology to development – has sent all political parties in a thinking mode that the time to deliver has come; mere rhetoric won’t suffice a voter.

Omar has his reason to be happy despite securing record low seats recently. In 2014 Lok Sabah elections NC for the first time failed to get even a single seat from the valley.

Founded in October 1932, by late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference and then renamed as National Conference (11th June 1939), was considered as the sole voice of people from the region.

Historians and political analysts term the conversion of Muslim Conference into National Conference to be the single most crucial development leading to political uncertainty that plagues Kashmir ever since.

NC was affiliated to the All India States Peoples Conference. Sheikh Abdullah was elected its president in 1947. Pre-independence of India, in 1946 NC launched an intensive agitation against the state government which was directed against the Maharaja. The slogan of the agitation was “Quit Kashmir” and post independence elections were held in September 1951 in which NC won all 75 seats and Sheikh Abdullah became the Prime Minister until his dismissal in August 1953 on the grounds of conspiracy against the state of India. Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, close aide of Sheikh Abdullah became the Prime minister of the state.

Omar-and-Farooq-AbdullahZareef Ahmad Zareef, a poet and satirist, says, “It was a peoples movement, started by the people of Kashmir but soon after Sheikh Indira accord of 1975, all political leaders including Bakhshi buried the real cause of people, made it Sarkari NC and started their power bargain with the people in New Delhi.” He claims the situation is such that the party has lost its relevance among the locals, who recall its ‘atrocities’ only.

Zareef is pained to see the historical party which was started by the people of Kashmir against their atrocities of different rulers is almost lost now. “Historically the loss of historic party means a lot.”

After the accord of 1975, Sheikh Abdullah compromised on being Chief Minister of the state, of once he was the Prime Minister. He came back to state politics and chose Ganderbal constituency to fight bi-elections. Though at that time, NC had only two members in state assembly. Then later in 1977 Sheikh fought election again and emerged winner with good numbers. Dr Farooq took the reins of party and after Sheikh’s death. Later, defection of his MLA’s compelled Farooq to step down and his brother-in-law Ghulam Ahmad Shah became Chief Minister of state. Feeling the heat, Farooq singed an accord with Rajiv Gandhi and became the Chief Minister. This was one of the blunders committed by NC as people of valley felt betrayed. The people took this step as diversion from stand of NC’s founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdulllah as Sheikh repeatedly used to say, “Congress ke logun ke jinaze mei shareeq hona b jaiz nahi (It is not right to participate in funeral of congressman.) Though that time, it was PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, who was congress’ face in the valley.

With eruption of armed struggle Governor’s rule was imposed and later in 1996 state elections were held again. With minimum opposition, NC emerged winner and got 57 seats. Dr Farooq became Chief Minister again. Hundreds of NC workers were killed. For Ghulam Muhammad who survived two assassination bids told Kashmir Life, “NC is not a party but a movement. We have promised to Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah about our loyalty and we will continue till death.”

In 2002 elections, with alternate of PDP, NC got 28 seats, but Omar Abdullah, the third Abdullah in fray lost his maiden election. Many believe that the loss of Omar ‘desisted’ NC to forge an alliance “as party did not want to have non Abdullah CM”.

In 2008, Omar did not miss the chance as NC emerged as a single largest party, winning 28 seats. After the elections NC formed an alliance with the Congress Party which had won 17 seats. Omar became the Chief Minister of this coalition government and what followed was the ‘political disaster’.

The coalition with congress did not benefit NC, this is what political observers believe. “Congress pruned roots of NC-the only party with strong regional identity,” said a political analyst.

On last day of his tenure, Omar said in a press conference that three things played against him: 2010 killings, hanging of Afzal Guru and the recent September floods.

But his paternal uncle, Dr Mustafa Kamal, who contested and lost from Gulmarg constituency says, “People are not against us, it is just they are psychologically angry with us. They are angry but finally they will return to their political mother- National Conference (NC).”

Kamal claims it was not because of his party that the people of Kashmir suffered through the era of militancy but he puts his guns towards New Delhi, congress and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and blames them for the era of 90s, 53 situation and the Governor Jagmohan’s rule.

“It was not our fault but New Delhi’s and now the other regional parties are projecting issues like NC did all blunders and they are saints themselves. AFSPA was installed in state when Mufti was in Center, Afzal Guru was sentenced by Supreme Court when they were enjoying their powers in New Delhi, then how come is it they will put blame on us? Wasn’t Ghulam Nabi Azad informed when Afzal Guru was hanged?” He says, “The situation was projected as if Afzal Guru was hanged in Delhi but buried him around our neck.”

But with recent election results, it seems NC is losing the ground. For the people of Kashmir, like Zareef, NC has lost the legitimacy it once enjoyed. In Srinagar city, which was once a bastion of NC, the party could manage to get only 3 seats out of 8 seats in 2014 elections. And like wise in other regions of Jammu and Kashmir like Kupwara, Pattan, Kishtwar, Poonch, Ghulabgarh and many more, the NC leaders lost their seats. Worst defeats included Chrar-i-eSharief, Hazratbal, Zadibal which NC lost for the first time in the political history of J&K. even veteran NC leader Abdul Rahim Rather lost after 37-yaers.

People are aggrieved as well with this oldest party of state. “They (NC) never gave any attention to horticulture which involves 80 per cent people of the state. The situation is such that this sector is on the verge of its death,” says Habibullah Mir, a fruit grower. “High headedness of NC leaders, corruption, was the other main reasons NC couldn’t get most of the vote share.”

But Zareef turns the court other side and says, “If PDP won it is not that people like them but it was only because of the hatred of NC that PDP was voted, otherwise baring this and last election Mufti himself never won in his hometown. You see our youth who go to different colleges of India for education are not safe even, two among them were killed, about 60 injured and above 50 were restricted. Why? Only because, they are Kashmiris. Our youth are educated they are aware what is good for them and what not.”

NC loyalists though reiterate their support to party but are disgruntled as well. They feel that outsiders were more accommodated than own people. They felt sidelined because of Omar’s intimacy with Nasir Aslam Wani and Devender Singh Rana and probably all these issues added to the woes of party.

“Who is Nasir Aslam, someone who came from Sogam and whose family deserted NC and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah? How can a common NC worker take it?” Said Ali Muhammad of Zaina Kadal.

Ali was seconded by Altaf Ahmad of the same locality, “Devender Singh Rana is Dogra against whom Shiekh sahib fought. In what capacity he can be decision maker. Is not his brother a minister in Modi government?”

With recent fractured mandate, NC seems to be at cross roads. If they forge an alliance with BJP, many believe it would be a ‘poison pill.” The party with regional identity has to put everything at stake for being in power for next six years. We have to wait and watch to see how scion of Abdullah family takes the legacy (which to large extent is routed) forward.

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