Jammu, Sept. 21: As the fight for the 13 Assembly seats in the Jammu region narrowed down to a face-off between the National Conference and the Congress, the state’s ruling party has discovered that being part of the NDA coalition is more of a bane than a boon.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s rally here on Thursday — the most impressive showing put up by a political party in Jammu in a long time according to residents of the region — apparently made the ruling party more nervous. “The chickens have come to roost,” admitted Rattan Lal Singh, vice-president of the conference’s Jammu province. “The support we gave to the Vajpayee government for the last four-and-a-half years has not been in the least fruitful. In fact, it has been counter-productive.”
“The main reason is the Centre’s lack of clarity on Kashmir. One moment the Prime Minister and home minister say they are willing to talk to the Hurriyat. When the leaders go to Delhi, they are turned away,” said Singh.
“At times they talk of taking the militants head on and destroying the terrorist infrastructure. What good is this when it is public knowledge here that there are at least two large training camps on the Poonch border which thrive because of the locals’ support' Even Hindu shopkeepers support them with ration paani. You mean to say the home ministry has no information about all this'” he asked.
If the Centre opens a channel of communication with the Hurriyat, the ruling party would possibly lose some of the pre-eminence it enjoys in the state. Party sources, however, conceded they had “little choice” if the state were to be put back on track.
A Kashmiri Pandit member went as far as to say: “Even if this means giving the Hurriyat political space it is worth a try.”
The other sore points include the Centre’s failure to announce a substantive financial package that could help the Farooq Abdullah government to offset some of the expenses it has incurred in fighting militancy and fulfilling the long-standing promise of waiving agricultural loans less than Rs 50,000.
Farooq’s propensity to shoot his mouth off has also hurt. Local papers have gone to town on his comment that if the results threw up a hung Assembly, the National Conference would prefer to sit in the Opposition.
State Congress chief Ghulam Nabi Azad was reportedly playing up the statement in his public meetings. The NC’s belated explanation was it was merely a reply to a “hypothetical” question — an explanation that did not wash with political observers.
The NC’s apprehension of the Congress bettering its
performance was reflected in Farooq’s meetings today
in Jammu. He attacked the BJP alright, but the bulk of
his ire was reserved for the Congress. He accused the
party for all that was wrong in J&K because of the
“divide-and-rule” policy it pursued right from his
father’s time. “I urge upon the Congress to stop
playing politics with religion because generations to
come will have to pay the price for its folly,” he
Stating it was “wrong to differentiate between a
mandir and a masjid”, Farooq said he would like to
remind the Congress if a “religious war” was fought,
the country would get destabilised.
Despite his efforts to protect the BJP, as it were, he
was forced to counter the RSS’ theory of a three-way
division of J&K, which was reportedly supported by
central minister Sushma Swaraj in the course of her
campaign in Jammu. “India will remain united only as
long as Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh are united. I want
to tell my sister Sushma that we managed to bond this
country into one after a lot of bloodshed. Can we
afford a further division'” asked Farooq.
In the last assembly elections, Jammu’s electoral
spoils were equally divided between the BJP and NC
with four seats each. The Congress picked up just one
and the BSP and Janata Dal, two each. The assessment
this time was the Congress would gain at the expense
of the BJP, BSP and JD while the NC would have to work
overtime to retain its tally.