The two biggest mainstream parties of Kashmir, the National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have called for the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) to fight elections together. However, the alliance’s experience of contesting the 2020 District Development Council (DDC) polls is a reminder of the complications that such an exercise entails.
Formed following the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the PAGD comprises the NC and PDP apart from the CPM, CPI and Awami National Conference as its members.
While NC vice-president Omar, who holds no official post in the PAGD, was the first to call for a united front for polls, he had been backed by PDP president and PAGD vice-president Mehbooba Mufti. Speaking to The Indian Express, Mufti said such a front was needed as the primary goal was to keep the BJP out.
Though this might have once been inconceivable given the fierce competition between the NC and PDP in the past, post-August 5, 2019, political realities have shifted in J&K.
The PAGD parties first fought together in the DDC polls – the first political initiative in J&K since the change in its constitutional status and its division into two Union territories – winning 110 of the 278 seats in which elections were held. The BJP, with 75 seats, largely in the Jammu region, was the single-largest party.
At the time, the PAGD also had Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC) as its member.
Among the alliance partners, the NC had won the highest number of seats (67), followed by the PDP (27), the PC (8), the CPM (5), and the J&K People’s Movement (3). The NC was runner-up in at least 44 seats and the PDP in 19. The J&K People’s Movement was the party founded by Shah Faesal, the IAS officer-turned-politician who has now returned to the Services.
The PAGD saw the results as a mandate to continue its fight for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, and to keep the BJP at bay.
But while the PAGD’s performance was impressive, the seat distribution was marred by reports of infighting, especially of proxy candidates entering the fray from both sides to take on official candidates.
The stakes in an Assembly election will be even higher, meaning greater chances of disgruntled leaders all around.
Party leaders admit that working out a formula for seat-sharing is not going to be easy. “If negotiations for an Assembly election are to be based on previous Assembly poll results,” a senior NC leader said, “it would be tricky for the PDP as it has lost most of its MLAs to other parties. Our cadre will question this and ask why we should carry them along.”
With an Assembly election to be held only after the delimitation exercise is over, which will throw up new constituencies and redraw boundaries of party bastions, this could get further complicated.
Apart from resolving these differences, a section of the NC is worried about taking on the lingering baggage borne by the PDP of its three-year alliance with the BJP, from 2014-15 to 2018. “Our workers do not want to be answerable for their mistakes,” a senior NC leader said.
Another senior NC leader said they were also worried about aiding the polarisation of votes along communal lines, which would fit well with the BJP’s agenda. “If the Hindu vote is consolidated (behind the BJP), then why should the Muslim vote in the Union territory be split?” he said.
As it is, senior leaders of both parties in the Jammu region have left their ranks, largely for the BJP. NC and PDP leaders have begun touring both Jammu and Pir Panjal regions in an effort to show their presence and address concerns of their cadre.
On the defensive over its alliance with the BJP, the PDP argues that as part of this tie-up, it had actually kept the BJP from making constitutional or critical changes in J&K. And that it was this resistance to the BJP’s efforts that had eventually led to the party pulling its support to the coalition government.
It was “only a matter of effectively communicating this to the voter”, a PDP functionary claimed.
This is where the PAGD parties are the most hopeful – that the voters want them to contest together, and this above all is the reason the alliance will succeed.