IS NC STAGING A COMEBACK?

  • GOWHAR GEELANI
  • Publish Date: Nov 16 2017 9:09PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 16 2017 9:09PM
IS NC STAGING A COMEBACK?

Whatever the party’s minor follies or shortcomings in the past, the people of the state have pinned their hopes on the NC: Sogami

 

Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest political party National Conference (NC) was able to draw some cheers from the crowds at a public rally that it organised last month in the heart of summer capital Srinagar. The public rally was a show of strength after a yawning gap of 15 years.

Dr. Farooq Abdullah, 80, was re-elected as NC’s President at a delegates’ session held at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on 29 October. The rally was attended by party stalwarts including the junior Abdullah, Mustafa Kamal, Abdul Rahim Rather, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Nasir Sogami and D Rana besides others.

Is the National Conference making a comeback of sorts after the drubbing the party received in 2014 Assembly Elections? Is the Peoples Democratic Party’s anticipated loss the National Conference’s gain? Will the NC’s slogan for Autonomy still work to attract the majority in Kashmir for whom A is for ‘Aazadi’?

Nasir Aslam Wani, aka Nasir Sogami, is a senior member of the party. He claims that the participation of people, especially from south Kashmir, in the Srinagar rally was “overwhelming”.

“Our rally demonstrated that there is lot of appetite for the mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir after it was on the backseat during the summer agitation of 2016,” Sogami told Kashmir Ink.

Sogami has served Jammu and Kashmir’s state government in various capacities as home minister, the minister of state for tourism & culture, housing & urban development, PHE etc.

“There is a rekindled hope for the NC’s revival. There is enthusiasm in the people. Whatever the party’s minor follies or shortcomings in the past, the people of the state have pinned their hopes on the NC,” he said, adding that “only the NC can address peoples’ anxieties and aspirations”.

Sogami further said that he along with the party president Dr Farooq Abdullah recently conducted comprehensive tours of Gurez, Teetwal, Tanghdar, Machill and other far-flung areas in north Kashmir and were “happy to see and feel the people’s faith and hope in the National Conference”.

Not that long ago, many senior leaders from both the PDP as well as the NC were saying that mainstream politics was on the precipice of irrelevance, notably in the aftermath of popular Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing and subsequent prolonged protests that lasted for over four months.

But is the NC really making a comeback? Or, it is still a tough ask to dislodge the PDP from the grassroots?

“In south Kashmir, there are only three ideologies that are prevalent and present. One is the armed militancy, two is the Jama’at-e-Islami and third is the PDP,” said a PDP leader in an informal chat.

The PDP leader though acknowledged that the party may have almost irretrievably lost its support base in parts of south Kashmir, once considered its bastion.

“It is a fact that the last year’s agitation has dented our credibility, but even if there is a low voter turnout we will still get our vote share because there is no trace of the National Conference in south,” he claimed.

Some senior leaders of the PDP say that the party’s decision to join hands with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March 2015 has “backfired”.

The horror that followed since the killing and blinding of many Kashmiri youths after Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016 has severely hurt the PDP’s image in public eye.

“Well, the anti-people decisions taken by the PDP has further alienated the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The gap between Delhi and Srinagar has widened further,” said another leader.

There is a perception that the space for mainstream politics in the Kashmir Valley has shrunk as the NC, PDP, Congress and other pro-India parties are not able to hold public rallies in different parts of the valley at will.

Many workers of pro-India parties continue to be targeted by the armed rebels in south Kashmir and elsewhere.

“It is very sad to see political workers being targeted for their ideology, but it also goes on to show that the PDP-led coalition government is not in control. If they still think that they will not lose in south Kashmir they are living in a fool’s paradise,” Sogami told Kashmir Ink.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir are eagerly waiting for a change,” he claimed.

Kashmir, they say, is a graveyard of reputations. Will the journey of NC’s ‘revival’ be as smooth as predicted by Nasir Sogami? Or, will it perhaps take more than experience and prediction to stage a comeback on Kashmir’s political turf?

On 21 August 1981, a little over 36 years ago, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah transferred the responsibility of running his party National Conference (NC) to his son Dr Farooq Abdullah. The Sheikh did so by fixing the badge of party president on Farooq’s sherwani (a traditional woollen cloak different from Kashmiri pheran).

But it was by no means a smooth sail for Dr. Farooq Abdullah.

A year after Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s coronation ceremony, he lost his father Sheikh Abdullah who passed away on 8 September 1982.

On 2 July 1984, Jammu and Kashmir’s then notorious Governor Jagmohan dismissed Farooq Abdullah’s government in a dramatic fashion.

Governor Jagmohan told this to Farooq Abdullah: “I am satisfied that you have lost confidence of the majority of the MLA›s in the Legislative Assembly. I, therefore, regret to inform you that I have dismissed you from the chief ministership of the state and dissolved the council of ministers headed by you.”

Farooq Abdullah’s dramatic dismissal as Chief Minister was almost a sequel of the unceremonious removal of his father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as Jammu and Kashmir’s Prime Minister on 9 August 1953.

From 1953 until 1964, the Sheikh was kept in prison. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad had taken over as Jammu and Kashmir’s Prime Minister. Then arrived Sadiq. The Sheikh finally succumbed and agreed to return as Chief Minister in 1975 after the infamous Sheikh-Indira Accord. In 1977, Sheikh Abdullah’s NC won a record 47 Assembly seats.

The Assembly Elections of 1987 were massively rigged. The party had won 40 seats.

After the eruption of a popular armed rebellion in 1989, there was the absence of pro-India politics on Kashmir’s turf for about seven years. From 1989 till 1996, there were hardly any traces of the NC or any other pro-India political party in Kashmir.

The National Conference did win the 1996 Assembly Elections, but there were serious allegations of rigging and massive accusations of coercion. Out of a total 87 assembly seats, the NC was declared winner in 57 constituencies.

The party then won 28 seats each in 2002 and 2008 Assembly Elections and lost further ground in 2014 elections to emerge victorious in only 15 Assembly constituencies.

How easy it is for the NC to reverse the clock backwards to its days of glory? Can the NC keep its promise and get back the autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir that it enjoyed until 1953 when New Delhi’s control existed only in defence, communications and foreign affairs? Or, will NC’s Autonomy continue to remain an emotional slogan and tool for garnering votes to come back to power?