New political calculations in Kashmir raise question about its direction, goal

National Conference in the process has created a peculiar situation for its INDIA allies.

The political calculations are changing fast in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in the Valley where three Lok Sabha seats are at stake, for which the National Conference of Abdullah has said very categorically and curtly that they can talk about anything but not these seats. It is a declaration of the sole right of NC on the three Valley seats, though the nature and complexion of at least one of these – Anantnag- seat has changed. This constituency now straddles between parts of south Kashmir and south of Pirpanjal districts of Rajouri and Poonch  in the Jammu region.  This was the outcome of a special Delimitation exercise held in J&K in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370, the period during which centre decided matters as per its own vision of Jammu and Kashmir with a claim that it was reversing an era of injustice and discrimination.

The Delimitation Commission submitted its report on May 5, 2022, at least 14 months after its original schedule. This exercise combined with the replacement of the permanent resident certificate with the domicile certificate, opening doors for outsiders staying in J&K and sections which were deprived of citizenship rights for decades, to get included in the electoral rolls, has changed the whole landscape. This has raised its questions and apprehensions, but all these stands ruled out.

A highly aggressive assertion made by Omar Abdullah,  NC vice president that since his party had won all the seats in the 2019  polls, hence the talks can be held for three other seats- two in the Jammu region and one in Ladakh union territory. His argument is simple- NC is in India block, so practically these three seats are with the Alliance, and the rest of the three are with the BJP, so discussions could be held. Both he and his father Farooq Abdullah who heads the party, have made it a point to mention Congress with which NC could hold talks in seat sharing arrangement for the rest of the three seats. Neither have mentioned Mehbooba-Mufti -led People’s Democratic Party in this arrangement.

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National Conference in the process has created a peculiar situation for its INDIA allies. It has underlined its political importance in Kashmir. The party has all the right to do so, and then. It has a history of electoral victories on these seats to back its claim. Ever since it returned to mainstream electoral politics  in 1975, after dissolving the Plebiscite Front by way of which it kept the idea of options other than India alive for 22 years, it has rarely looked back

Post-abrogation Article 370, the Kashmir-centric parties led by the National Conference and PDP had joined hands to form the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration or PAGD  with a commitment to fight for the restoration of Article 370 and statehood. These commitments remain, but the fact is that the  Supreme Court’s December 11, 2023 verdict, holding the abrogation as constitutional and legal has dealt a body blow to the idea of the restoration of the constitutional provision that granted special status and privileges to the erstwhile state of J&K and its residents.

As such PAGD if not dead and buried, it is struggling to breathe. It has often been repeated by NC and PDP that PAGD  was set up in October 2020 with a much larger picture than electoral alliances, but the fact remains that when they fight elections separately, it raises questions about their idea of unity on the issue. The two major regional parties have been unsparing in criticism of each other. It is back to the bitterness of old times.

It is critically important because the whole nation, including the Central government, knows that the Lok  Sabha polls in J&K, especially the Valley, have greater importance than these polls in other parts of the country. The original calculations have gone astray. It is not the outcome of the polls in Kashmir that will matter, what will matter more is what will happen to the regional parties that have chosen the path of confronting each other rather than doing handholding.

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