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The Abdullahs versus a miracle

It does not require any great psephological wisdom to be able to predict the verdict of the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly which begin on September 16. Unless there is a miracle or a dramatic change, the National Conference should return to power comfortably, although with less than the two-thirds majority they had secured in 1996. The only real uncertainty is whether Farooq Abdullah will continue as chief minister or his son, Omar Abdullah, the president of the National Conference, will take over as the executive head of the next state government.

In the 1996 Assembly elections, of a total of 87 seats, the National Conference had won in 57, the Bharatiya Janata Party in eight, the Congress in seven, the Janata Dal in five and the BSP in four.

The Panthers Party, the CPM, Congress Tiwari and the Awami League had one seat each, and two constituencies elected independent candidates.

But it was clear even in those elections that the bulk of the NC’s support had come from within the Kashmir Valley. The six districts of Kashmir have 46 legislative constituencies and the NC won in 42 of them.

The four candidates who won on a non-NC ticket were: Mehbooba Mufti, the daughter of former Union home minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed, who won from Brijbehara in Anantnag district on a Congress ticket; the CPM’s Yusuf Tarigami from Kulgam, also in Anantnag; the Janata Dal’s Dilawar Mir from Rafiabad in Baramullah; and the former militant, Yusuf “Kuka” Parray, from Sonawari, again in Baramullah.

The NC is reasonably certain to win about 35 to 40 seats in the valley this time as well, especially if there is a low voter turnout. The only challenge to the NC will come from Mufti Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party, especially in Anantnag district which has 10 Assembly constituencies. A revitalised Congress, under new PCC president Ghulam Nabi Azad, may also be able to make some inroads in the Valley, but it is unlikely that it would win more than two to three seats. Tarigami of the CPM, considering the work he has done in his constituency, is almost assured of victory again.

Even if a section of the separatists, outside the Hurriyat leadership, were to contest the poll, the NC would face a real challenge in at least half the seats, but this is unlikely to happen now. The picture in Jammu province, which accounts for 37 constituencies, is more complex and competitive.

The NC has some influence in the districts of Poonch, Rajouri, Doda and parts of Jammu city, but outside these, most of the constituencies will probably witness a real contest between the BJP and the Congress.

The BJP has aligned with the RSS-backed Morcha that has been demanding separate statehood for Jammu. Although the BJP has formally distanced itself from this demand, it is clear that it will hope for “voter mobilisation” on this issue.

The Congress is hoping that the alienation of the BJP leadership may translate into support for itself.

In Ladakh, with two seats in Leh and two in Kargil, the Congress, the NC and possibly the BJP could pick up a seat each, but much will depend on how strongly the Ladakh Buddhist Association campaigns on its the demand for Union territory status for Ladakh.

In sum, barring a miracle, the state will witness another six years of NC rule, with a reduced majority.

The only near-miracle that Kashmiris have witnessed in the last decades was when the chief of the Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mullick, mysteriously retrieved the prophet’s relic, which had gone missing from the Hazratbal shrine in December 1963.

There was a popular uprising in the Kashmir Valley, but within a week, the IB chief produced the relic, which was duly certified as authentic by the maulvis in charge.

While Mullick never revealed the process of finding the relic, a period of unprecedented peace followed the incident and there was heightened confidence and trust in the Union government. It remains to be seen, however, if the elections will miraculously produce lasting peace in the state.

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