PDP Loses Way In Its Own Mission 44+

27 December 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)

Srinagar: During the Lok Sabha elections held in May, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) sprang a surprise and routed the ruling National Conference-Congress combine to win all the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir. Buoyed by the leads in 41 Assembly segments of the state, the PDP had set in motion its own Mission 44+ to form the next government in Jammu and Kashmir. With the Congress having broken away from the coalition and the NC facing anti-incumbency, its task was supposed to be easier. Seven months down the line, the PDP has been unable by a long margin to translate that 'euphoria' into the seats required to assume power on its own strength. Analysts cite various factors for the PDP falling way short of its own expectations. 'After the Parliament polls, the PDP got over-confident and expected a complete rout of the NC. But that did not happen. The Lok Sabha elections are fought on different issues and the Assembly elections are a totally different ball game; this was where the PDP misread the situation,' says political commentator Rekha Choudhary. 'If we see the poll results in Kashmir region, there have been close victory margins, which indicate how tough the elections were. In the Jammu region, however, the victory margins were massive,' she points out. PDP had taken the lead in campaigning for the Assembly elections and had even announced its first list of candidates in June this year. The Omar Abdullah government's response or the lack of it following the worst floods in decades in September provided another electoral issue that it could use to its advantage. The results presented a different picture. Another major reason being cited for PDP's failure to reach its target is that the party invested too much in Jammu region, where it managed to win just three seats. The performance of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in Jammu underlined the fact that the region, comprising both Muslims and Hindus, has not yet accepted him as their leader. Even Mufti hinted at it while addressing a poll rally in Srinagar's SK stadium. Mufti said that his daughter Mehbooba Mufti taunts him over the people of Jammu not accepting him as their leader. 'In Jammu region, there was a Modi wave and nothing else worked. So, the PDP investment in Jammu failed to achieve the desired results,' says Choudhary. The defeat of a few PDP leaders from the party bastions in south Kashmir also indicates that if anti-incumbency worked against the ruling NC, it also affected the prospects of several PDP legislators. Six sitting MLAs seeking re-election lost their seats, including Deputy Speaker Sartaj Madni. 'The results were a big disappointment,' PDPs media adviser Nayeema Mehjoor admits. 'We have not got the time to find the reasons but the party leaders have to ponder over what went wrong,' she says. - Majid Jahangir Bastions in which PDP lost Devsar: Sartaz Madni lost to Congress' Mohammad Amin Bhat by a margin of 1,511 votes Homshalibugh: Former minister Abdul Gaffar Sofi lost to Abdul Majeed of NC by 1,269 votes Pahalgam: PDP lost from this constituency in Anantnag district which was considered their stronghold Shangus: The party tasted defeat in this stronghold in south Kashmir too PDP also lost from Beerwah in central Kashmir and Bandipore in north Kashmir BJP's 25 all on Jammu turf Gains in Valley despite nominees losing security deposits The Bharatiya Janata Party won a record 25 of the 37 Assembly seats in Jammu province and opened its account in nine of the 10 districts, except the Muslim-dominated mountainous area of Poonch. To woo Muslim voters, the BJP had discarded its core issues like abrogation of Article 370, but could not penetrate into constituencies with a Muslim population of more than 75 per cent in Jammu province. Kashmir, too, was no small part of BJP's Mission 44+ and the noise made it sound even bigger. In the end, it drew a blank in the Valley. However, in Doda, Kishtwar and Bhaderwah, where the Hindu population is more than 40 per cent, the BJP wrested the seats from the Congress and National Conference. As an experiment, the party fielded Muslim candidate Abdul Gani Kohli from the Hindu-majority Kalakote seat and Thakur Puran Singh from Muslim-majority Darhal. Kohli won due to consolidation of Hindu votes. While the BJP lost the Hindu-majority seats of Bishnah, Udhampur and Nagrota due to local reasons, the Modi wave consolidated the Hindu vote-bank in the entire Jammu region. The Prime Minister addressed nine election rallies, including one in Srinagar, to give impetus to the Mission 44+ campaign. In the Kashmir valley, barring one, 33 of its candidates lost their security deposits, but the BJP workers still danced and burst firecrackers in Srinagar. From being considered an untouchable till sometime back, the saffron party had for the first time made significant inroads into Muslim-dominated Kashmir. The party campaigned freely, held its first-ever open rally at Khanyar in old Srinagar, considered a stone-pelting hub, and on top of that claimed a reasonable acceptance across the Valley. The BJP even managed to poll a few thousand votes in several segments where the party had found negligible support in the 2008 Assembly polls. The BJP's best performance this time was in Habbakadal, where it was banking on the migrant vote-bank. Moti Kaul, the only BJP candidate who saved his security deposit, remained the runner-up by securing 2,596 votes. However, the maximum votes (3,892) secured by any BJP candidate were by Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, who contested from Devsar in south Kashmir's Kulgam. He says BJP has laid a solid base and cleared its 'communal' image. - Dinesh Manhotra & M Aamir Khan NC still in game It was written off, but Kashmir's oldest political party, the National Conference, bounced back in the Assembly elections with 15 seats. In the summer of 2014, the NC faced a rout in most Assembly segments in Kashmir when arch-rival PDP swept the parliamentary elections, winning all three seats. However, like in the past, the NC proved its prowess to stay on and, more importantly, stay relevant amid the changing political landscape by dashing the hopes of the PDP to form the government on its own. Despite an overwhelming 'Modi wave', the NC is the only party to have won two seats - Nagrota and Bishnah - in the Hindu heartland of Jammu region where the BJP swept the polls. Omar, who has little political experience compared to PDP's patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has also learnt a few tricks of the trade. It became evident when he kept everyone guessing about his party's stand, hinting at multiple possibilities, including an offer of support to the PDP that caused NC's downfall from 57 seats in 1996 to 15 now. - Azhar Qadri Cong looks for role Congress has always considered itself the kingmaker if not the king in state politics. In sharp contrast to 2002 and 2008, when the PDP and National Conference sought its support to form the government, the tables seem to have turned. The party won 12 seats and just five out of 37 in Jammu, eight down from 13 in the region once regarded as its strongest bastion. It won four seats out of 46 in Kashmir, one up from three last time, and and three of the four in Ladakh, an improvement of two six years ago.