Srinagar: The three main motifs of the 2014 Assembly election are the emergence of the BJP as a key challenger; PDP’s rise to the centrestage; and, most importantly, the decline of National Conference.
It was a domino of setbacks for the party that has ruled the state for most part of its disputed existence since 1947.
The party faced a rout in Lok Sabha polls. Its founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s son and party patron Dr Farooq Abdullah lost an election for the first time in his 32-year career.
The defeat, inflicted by PDP, which the NC says is the creation of Indian intelligence agencies, rattled it so much that days after the results, Sheikh’s grandson and chief minister Omar Abdullah announced a series of populist sops, a measure which backfired.
The record of the past six years—mishandling of Shopian double rape, killing of youth in 2010 agitation, failure to extract any concession on AFSPA, failure to stop human rights abuses by armed forces, for example—had probably made the party so nervous that it didn’t risk fielding Omar from Ganderbal, which was the family bastion for Abdullahs since 1977 when Sheikh contested his first election.
Omar will now be contesting from Sonawar in Srinagar and Beerwah in Budgam district.
Another setback, and a sign that its own senior leaders have sensed the decline, was the resignation of former chief secretary and Farooq loyalist Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, one of the beneficiaries of the party’s largesse. He joined the PDP and publically questioned Omar’s six-year tenure, saying the CM did not attend a single public rally in Ganderal that elected him in 2008.
The decline, in fact, started in 2002 when its tally of seats in the 87-member house fell to 28 from 57 it had achieved in 1996 elections. It decided to sit in the opposition and the PDP, which had the lowest number of seats among big regional parties, formed a coalition government with the Congress.
In 2008, while its rival PDP managed to increase its number of seats and vote share, NC’s tally remained the same and its vote share dwindled.
“The infighting has created a mess in the party. You have to understand some new faces were installed, which is the main reason for the bickering. Sheikh Ghulam Rasool was a vote puller in Ganderbal but he left because he felt isolated,” a senior party leader, wishing anonymity, told Kashmir Reader.
Another factor, the leader said, is that Omar “ignored party workers”. According to him, Farooq should have handled the party affairs himself as he had the ability to build and maintain a rapport with grassroots workers.
Professor of political science at Kashmir University, Noor Ahmad Baba, said the NC lost the monopoly it once enjoyed because it did not follow its political agendas seriously.
“It couldn’t play its cards such as autonomy and revocation of AFSPA seriously. Moreover, after 2002 polls, the situation has changed due to multiple factors, including the competition from PDP,” Baba said.
According to Sheikh Ghulam Rasool the party “has been unable to capitalize on its main agendas such as autonomy”.
“The biggest setback came when NDA government, of which the NC was part, trashed the autonomy resolution. The NC didn’t protest and sacrificed autonomy for power,” Sheikh told Kashmir Reader.
Also, he said the third-generation Abdullah didn’t “carry forward the mission of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah”.
‘Victim of Conspiracy’
Ali Mohammad Sagar, a senior party leader and general secretary, believes the party’s fall is the result of “a conspiracy that was hatched” after the party passed the autonomy resolution in Legislative Assembly.
“The NC-led government passed autonomy resolution which revisited the entire history. That time the NDA government at New Delhi hatched a conspiracy to weaken our party,” Sagar said.
“Then prime minister AB Vajpayee once told media that ‘we can’t afford to keep all eggs in one basket’ after the resolution was passed. And then an alternative party was launched whose patron met then PM many a time,” Sagar told Kashmir Reader. He was referring to PDP and its founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Sagar said 4,000 NC workers were killed during militancy and posters were pasted against its workers to keep them away from polls.
“Even after facing terror we maintained our presence. Again, conspiracies are being hatched to weaken our party. In spite of it, the people are the best judge and we leave it to the people,” he said.