June 2016 News

Anantnag By-polls Are A Tough Test For PDP-BJP Alliance In Kashmir

21 June 2016
Aijaz Nazir

Srinagar: In its campaign during the 2014 Assembly elections, the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) leadership kept assuring people that only their party had capability to stop the juggernaut of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from accomplishing its 'Mission 44+' in Jammu and Kashmir. PDP, often referred to as a soft-separatist party in Kashmir, had then talked about self rule and autonomy- its mantra since its establishment in 1999. However, post-elections, the party did a u-turn to form an alliance with the BJP to form the government led by the Chief Minister late Mufti Mohammed Syed. Described as the North Pole joining hands with the South Pole for the 'betterment of Kashmir', the alliance nonetheless came as a rude shock to not only ordinary Kashmiris but even the hardcore PDP members. Most of them perceived the alliance as 'unholy' and termed it as a political hara-kiri for the party. The accusations against the PDP were multiple - some accused the party of betraying the people in the Kashmir Valley, some argued that its alliance with the BJP had opened Kashmir's doors for the Hindutva ideology, and some even accused the PDP of being the agent of the Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh (RSS). The death of Mufti Mohammed Syed on 7 January this year, led many in the party to believe that his daughter and the anointed successor, Mehbooba Mufti will not join hands again with the BJP. The initial reluctance on Mehbooba's part to form the government, gave them the necessary confidence. However, more than two and half months later, Mehbooba proceeded to renegotiate her party's alliance with the BJP, after a brief meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now, in what will be the first electoral test of the alliance, Mehbooba, a two-time MP, is preparing to re-enter the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly as an MLA, by contesting from the Anantnag constituency- the seat which fell vacant after her father's death. The by-polls are scheduled for 22 June. However, it is by no means an easy fight. Realising the vulnerability of the PDP and the criticality of these by-polls for Mehbooba, opposition parties have focused on putting up a tough fight. Apart from Mehbooba, there are seven other candidates in the fray, including Hilal Ahmad Shah of Congress, who had lost to Mufti by just 6000 votes in the last assembly elections and Iftikhar Hussain Misgar, from the National Conference. In a bid to queer the pitch, another soft-separatist leader, the infamous MLA from Kupwara, Engineer Abdul Rasheed too has stepped in. Rasheed had earlier filed his papers from Anantnag, but he soon withdrew his candidacy. Now another of Rasheed's associate, Mujeeb-Ur-Rehman is contesting against Mehbooba. 'He (Rasheed) was just a covering candidate and withdrew his nomination papers only after mine were found correct,' Mujeeb told Firstpost. The alliance with the BJP is the major issue that the opposition is using to corner Mehbooba. But there are other political issues too. Earlier this year, when Mehbooba had renegotiated the alliance with the BJP, one of the major promises that the she had reportedly extracted from the BJP was the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), the draconian law which gives the security forces power to detain any person or search any house without any prior warrant and without any impunity. But the protests in Handwara when Mehbooba took over and the series of militant attacks on the policemen in Srinagar and south Kashmir seem to have put a spanner in the PDP's plans. Opposition parties are capitalizing on this. Congress leader, Hilal Ahmad Shah says, 'PDP in its campaign for the last assembly elections had promised to revoke the AFSPA in Kashmir, but that still remains a distant dream. People trusted and voted for the PDP, but they were betrayed and now people want revenge from the PDP. They will certainly vote against them.' While Rasheed has withdrawn from the contest, he has not stopped from attempting to generate the anti-Mehbooba sentiments in Anantnag. Ahead of the by-polls, Rasheed hoisted the state flag in Anantnag's Wazir Bagh area on 7 June to celebrate the state Flag Day. On the occasion, he lashed out at the Chief Minister accusing the PDP of being the B-Team of the RSS. 'Mein Mehbooba ko Nagpur ki Nagin nahi banney doonga' (I won't allow Mehbooba to be the agent of Nagpur).' This was also Rasheed's attempt to hark attention to the two flag controversy which had erupted earlier in the year when the Srinagar High Court had stayed their colleague's earlier order which had stated that the state flag be given the same respect as the national flag. The separatists led by the Hurriyat too have called for the poll boycott in Anantnag. Even the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front is campaigning actively for the boycott. But the PDP seems to be unfazed and is confident of a victory. While filing her nomination papers last week Mehbooba said, 'I am hopeful that people will repose faith in me and give me an opportunity to complete the work left by Mufti sahib.' The same day the opposition took up another controversy against her when they filed a complaint with the Election Commission after she drove inside the election office with the state and national flag on her official car, which is a violation of the Code of Conduct. 'It is going to be a one-sided election. We will surely win it,' said the PDP Chief Spokesperson, Mehboob Beg, while talking to Firstpost. He justifies the PDP-BJP alliance by drawing attention to the fact that while the Valley had voted for the PDP in the 2014 assembly elections, the Jammu had chosen BJP. 'People in Anantnag are politically educated and they understand the nature of the mandate that was given to us. When we respect the mandate of Kashmir, we have to respect the mandate of other region (Jammu) as well, that's how we respect the mandate in totality,' he said. But beyond this political game of one-upmanship, people in Anantnag say that while every political party is focusing on the PDP-BJP alliance, they are yet to see any real progress on the alliance' agenda of economic development. 'People have lost faith in politics. Everyone uses the PDP- BJP alliance to campaign for the by-polls but at the same time they should at least talk about the unemployment problem, introduce new schemes for the overall development of the town,' said Zubair Shah, a local who works in private sector. Another local from Anantnag, Jan Waseem told Firstpost, 'PDP could have won the people's trust again by talking about the revocation of the AFSPA and bringing back power projects to the state which was the agenda of the alliance as well. They talk about development, but are forgetting the real issues.' Echoing their views, Sameer Ahmad, another local says, 'I have seen the tactics of political leaders. They come to you and promise, but after winning the elections they disappear. The PDP is considered as a kind of pro-south Kashmir party, but if we see they have just macadamised the roads and issues like enhancing education sector and health are still a distant dream. The main and important thing that also remains is unemployment that needs to be given attention.' Whatever the ballots reveal on June 25, when the votes will be counted, it will surely herald a new direction for Kashmir, as the region looks towards an uncertain future with the rise in local militancy and the growing alienation of the locals from the mainstream political parties. The author is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar. He focuses on the socio-political issues of the Kashmir Valley.