They have been there and done that before, so the news of the Congress and the National Conference going their separate ways for the forthcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir is unlikely to have set off shock waves either in the state or in New Delhi. The dissonance in the alliance had been made apparent following the Lok Sabha elections in May, when politicians of both parties blamed each other for the dismal performance. None of the parties ruling the state had managed to secure a single seat, and their tallest leaders had taken the sharpest of blows. Meanwhile, their opponents had taken giant strides — the People’s Democratic Party won three seats in the valley, and the Bharatiya Janata Party two in Jammu, and, quite unusually, one in Ladakh. Like other regional parties that weigh their alliances with national parties strictly in relation to their prospects in the state, the choice for the National Conference was not a particularly difficult one. But it is unlikely that it would have rushed its decision had the political turmoil within the Congress not made it absolutely necessary for matters to come to a head.
The break-up of the Congress’s alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, which coincides with the political logjam it is experiencing in Assam and Maharashtra, is perhaps indicative of the fast-shrinking appeal of the Rahul Gandhi factor in party affairs. Despite the strains that the Congress-National Conference alliance had been exposed to since 2008, it was the much-advertised friendship of the two young bearers of the legacies of the two parties — Omar Abdullah and Mr Gandhi — that had kept the alliance going. With a rebellion flaring up within the Congress against Mr Gandhi’s leadership, a personal friendship now appears insufficient logic to take a political gamble, especially one that has turned as daunting as the one in Jammu and Kashmir. If the National Conference is unable to position itself in the political line-up in the state, it risks losing all. It has little chance of halting the BJP’s advance in Jammu, and it now runs the risk of losing both the valley and Ladakh to either the PDP or the BJP, both of which have made it clear that they have no aversion to coming together again if it suits their interests. What, however, could prove more challenging to the National Conference than a break-up may be continuing governance in an alliance with its divorced partner for the next few months.