Congress Desperate To Be No. 1 In Kashmir Politics
Congress Desperate To Be No. 1 In Kashmir Politics
26 April 2012
The Economic Times
: The fulcrum of unionist politics in J&K is slightly shifting as the coalition partners are keen to exhibit the discomfort they experience while ruling India's most sensitive state. Though the squabbling was restricted to the middle rung for most of the last four years, it is now hitting the top in both the parties. Last week, Omar's predecessor Ghulam Nabi Azad flew to Jammu and openly talked about the problems that Congress is having in the coalition. He specially mentioned two issues during his speech in Billawar. Firstly, he said, some of 1500 developmental projects he had initiated a chief minister of the state are either delayed inordinately or stand stopped. Secondly, he said Congress has two vacant berths in the cabinet and the Chief Minister should return R&B and Education portfolios that he has kept with him. Azad, who has been frequenting Jammu for last three fortnights, made certain things very clear. Five of the 10 districts that make Jammu region, five lack any representation at all, three are represented by ministers of state, one district has three ministers and two others one each. Azad wants Congressmen filling these positions so that people are empowered. Open accusations against the government came at the peak of Azad's rival Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz's continued criticism of the Omar government. In fact, Soz has concentrated on a particular amendment in the Panchayat Raj Act without which he believes the rural and urban local bodies would not be fully empowered. State government, however, feels otherwise. Though the Omar government is used to the scathing criticism from the opposition PDP, quick bites from the Congress did unnerve it a bit. It was Omar's uncle Dr Mustafa Kamal who reacted. These utterances, Kamal said, tantamount to provoking people against the government led by Omar Abdullah. 'Instead of going public against the government, he (Azad) should have got these issues raised in internal forums like Coordination Committee (CC) and Cabinet, through their representatives,' Kamal argued. Kamal, interestingly was sacked as additional secretary general of the party last year at the peak of his anti-Congress campaign. Recently his status was restored, apparently to use his 'historic specialization' for consolidating the anti-Congress vote. Already, he has started questioning the Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975. From party's old guard, Kamal still believes that there is receptivity and acceptance to raking up the uncomfortable relationship that Congress and NC had over the decades. Omar reacted cautiously. Speaking to a gathering in Kalakote in Rajouri, Omar choose Soz rather than the powerful Azad. The utterances (of Soz), he said, could create problems in the functioning of the coalition. 'They (Congress leaders) should not indulge in mudslinging and instead the issues should be raised at proper platform,' he insisted. Omar said Soz being the head of the coalition coordination committee and the rural development minister being a member, the issue about Panchayat Raj could otherwise be discussed and settled in the meeting. Notwithstanding the issues being raked up, Congress is actually angry over indecisiveness of the state legislature not accepting the BJP letter and showing door to its seven of 11 MLAs for cross voting that the party ha established. BJP lawmakers voted for coalition candidates in the state's legislative council polls that triggered a crisis and finally the party high command wanted them to be axed. However, the Speaker has not expelled the seven right-wingers despite the Congress keeping the house hostage for a few days last year. Insiders in the party say in case of re-election on the seven segments, it will be Congress that will sweep the polls. If that happens, Congress's overall numeral strength in the house will go up from 17 to 24. And that can upset NC having 28 berths in the house. 'It (getting BJP to vote for ruling coalition) proved a double-edged weapon,' admitted an insider. 'We wanted to defeat the PDP and we ended up strengthening the Congress.' Congress is upbeat. It is selling why the right-wingers can not be trusted and people are buying it in hoards in the length and breadth of Jammu's Dogra heartland. Azad's is working overtime to somehow cobble together 25 to 28 seats and most of it is possible in Jammu region only. In Jammu's Hindu belt, Congress will sweep the polls. The real problem could be in the twin Muslim belts - the Chenab Valley (Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar and Reasi) and Pir Panchal Valley (Rajouri and Poonch). In Chenab Valley where it is the dominant force numerically, it is facing an anti-incumbency wave. In the border Pir Panchal belt, it is pitted against PDP and NC. But Azad has evolved a blueprint about how to manage the top slot. Apparently aware of the crisis that Congress may have in the next general elections, he is keen to return to state politics. His frequent forays are a clear indicator of his return and that is unnerving both his possible allies - NC and PDP.J&K will go to polls in later 2014.