Srinagar: The conflict-torn region of Anantnag in south Kashmir is emerging as the sticking point in efforts by the Congress and National Conference (NC) to stitch a pre-poll alliance ahead of the upcoming Lok-Sabha elections for the six seats in Jammu and Kashmir.
Negotiations between Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and NC vice president Omar Abdullah reached a dead-end after the latter made it a precondition to contest all three seats in the Kashmir valley in exchange for the party’s support to the Congress in the two seats in Jammu and one in Ladakh.
Adamant on his stand, Abdullah said if the proposed formula suits the Congress, only then could the parties hold talks over the three seats in Jammu and Ladakh, which the grand old party is keen on contesting.
On Monday, NC’s parliamentary board met in Srinagar and all members were of the opinion that the party should contest all six parliamentary constituencies, a party spokesperson said.
The NC said the board has authorised its president, Farooq Abdullah, to take the final call on any coalition with secular forces, taking into account “the national political situation”. However, the Congress has asked the NC to leave Anantnag as the party leadership feels its state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir has a better chance of winning from there.
Of J&K’s six Lok Sabha seats, three were won by the BJP and three by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2014 polls. The National Conference is already part of the Mahagathbandhan, an emerging united ‘federal front’ to counter the BJP.
Mir maintains that his party should get an equal share from all the three regions.“In the last assembly polls, we got seats from each region of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh,” Mir told News18. “We cannot disappoint our workers by leaving Kashmir region aside. If NC agrees to our terms, only then will we can go forward with this poll alliance.”
However, Omar Abdullah conveyed to the Congress the importance of winning the Anantnag seat “to make an impact in upcoming Assembly elections in the PDP bastion”.
Of 16 assembly segments, the PDP had won 11 seats in the 2014 elections. However, Mir said, “The Anantnag seat is non-negotiable and if we are not given one seat from Kashmir, then we will fight on all four seats.”
If such a scenario emerges, it would mean that the two parties will have an alliance on four seats, but will battle it out on two others.
On the other hand, if the alliance matures, then it will be the third time that both parties will come together for the parliamentary polls in the state.
In 1965, the National Conference merged with the Congress and became the party’s J&K branch. However, NC founder Sheikh Abdullah was arrested for the second time that year for conspiring against the state and was jailed for around three years.
He had created the Plebiscite Front faction which he later changed back to the National Conference as he was allowed to return to power in February 1975, after sealing a deal with the central government.
Later, NC formed an alliance with the Congress in 1987 and 2008 and came to power in the state.
In 2009, it was for the first time that both the Congress and the NC fought the Lok Sabha polls together under an alliance. The two seats of Jammu region were won by the Congress. However, it lost the Ladakh seat to an NC rebel who contested as an Independent candidate, even as the NC managed to win all three seats in the Kashmir Valley.
The Congress and NC contested the last national polls in 2014 together but won no seats. The NC contested the Valley’s Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag seats. The Congress fielded its candidates from Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh. The PDP won all three seats from Kashmir, while the BJP secured two seats from Jammu and one seat of Ladakh.
This time, the NC is adamant that it will fight on all three seats in Kashmir.
“The only reason to get in an alliance with the Congress is to unite secular forces against communal forces,” NC leader Agha Ruhullah Mehdi said. He went on to dispel all speculation of his party facing a challenge from the BJP in the Valley. “There is no challenge in Kashmir from the BJP or any other such party… The challenge lies in Jammu and Ladakh, where we have agreed to support the Congress,” Mehdi said.
The NC has decided to field its president and three-time chief minister Farooq Abdullah from Srinagar seat and Akbar Lone, the former assembly speaker from the Baramulla seat. No announcement has been made yet for Anantnag.
“Talks are going on. We have put forth our conditions and they have put forth theirs. We may reach a common ground,” Nasir Aslam Wani, NC’s provincial president, Kashmir, told News18.
Last week, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had said that an alliance was “close to final stages”.