Kashmir Divorce Looms In Election Run-up

Kashmir Divorce Looms In Election Run-up

10 April 2013
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
SANJAY K. JHA

New Delhi: Southern ally DMK’s exit may not have shaken the central government, which drags on despite being in a minority, but another shock could come from the north with the National Conference having almost made up its mind to split from the UPA. Although Congress leaders deny any such possibility in the immediate future, they realise the Kashmir-based party may not continue its alliance for long and could contest both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections on its own. Sources said the National Conference believes the association with the Congress would be suicidal as Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s execution and the Centre’s reluctance to agree to a phased revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act had deeply affected public sentiment in the Valley. The opposition PDP has made Guru’s hanging and the act, which gives armed forces sweeping powers in insurgency-hit zones, big issues the National Conference can hardly ignore. The local Congress leadership, too, is unhappy with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah and would prefer a separation at the earliest. The National Conference’s central working committee met in Jammu recently and debated these issues before coming to the conclusion that the alliance with the Congress had become a liability. The central committee authorised Farooq Abdullah to take a decision at an appropriate time. Although the possible exit of the National Conference, which has three members in the Lok Sabha in addition to an affiliated MP, won’t make a big impact in terms of numbers, it will strengthen the perception that the UPA is a sinking ship. Congress leaders are reconciled to the divorce before the next election but insist the development would be a reflection of local electoral compulsions. Congress leaders expect the National Conference to take the extreme step only in the last phase of this government as Omar, too, needs the Congress to stay on in power. The Congress has 17 MLAs and the National Conference 28 in a House of 87. The National Conference government cannot survive if the Congress withdraws support in the state and hence some leaders want the chief minister to advance the Assembly elections by six months so as to go to polls together with the Lok Sabha elections next year. The National Conference, which was once part of the Vajpayee government at the Centre, had quit the BJP-led NDA a month before Assembly elections. The looming separation from the UPA may, however, be only tactical as the National Conference would need Congress support after the election in case of a fractured mandate. The Congress, too, doesn’t want to exploit the instability in the sensitive state and hence would willingly support any party, the National Conference or the PDP, which is in a position to form the government. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has an excellent relationship with Omar and did him a favour by not enforcing the rotation formula to claim the chief minister’s post for his own party after the government completed half its term. Sources said the separation was now a matter of timing. While the National Conference would like a local strain to propel its decision, the Congress would ideally expect its ally to remain part of the government for a few months more, at least till Parliament’s winter session. With the divorce being planned as a matter of strategy, the leadership of the two parties could even decide on a convenient time.