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How much can NC concede to Congress in 2014? (Kashmir Newsletter)

By Sheikh Qayoom, Srinagar, Dec 19 : Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has asserted the National Conference (NC) would continue to support the Congress but speculations are rife locally as to how much his party can concede to its ally in the forthcoming Lok Sabha and assembly elections.


At present, the NC has three members in the Lok Sabha representing Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla constituencies.

The Congress has two, representing Jammu and Udhampur seats, while the lone seat from the Ladakh region was represented by an Independent candidate, who however resigned earlier this year after he was elected to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council in Kargil.

NC patron Farooq Abdullah has already announced party candidates for the general elections from Srinagar, Anantnag and Baramulla, angering many among the Congress who say this was done without consulting them.

Meanwhile, senior Congress leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad recently said no formal discussions have so far been held between the two parties on an electoral alliance for 2014.

He was reacting to media reports saying Omar Abdullah, who is also the NC president, called on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and discussed an alliance for the 2014 elections.

Azad also said since the Lok Sabha and assembly elections are likely to be held separately, the working out of an electoral understanding would have to take a holistic view of both these elections, or in other words, sought a clear-cut assurance from the NC as to how much it was prepared to concede to his party.

Since the NC has little chances of winning either the Jammu or the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat on its own, it would have not have much problems supporting the Congress candidates for these two Lok Sabha seats in 2014.

The real problem for the NC-Congress 2014 electoral alliance is the sharing of the state assembly seats.

In the 87-member assembly, the NC has 28 members and the Congress 17 this time. Out of these, the latter has just three members from the Valley which has 46 assembly constituencies.

Out of 37 assembly seats from the Jammu region, the NC has just six members. The Congress has 13 members from the Jammu region at present.

Ladakh region has four assembly constituencies out of which the NC has three members while the fourth seat is represented by a Congress candidate.

This would mean that the assembly seat adjustment would have to be focused on how much the Congress can concede to the NC in the Jammu region and how much can the NC concede to the Congress in the Valley.

Traditionally, the Valley has been seen as the political stronghold of the NC, but now it faces serious challenges there from its regional arch rival, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which has 21 seats in the state assembly.

Congress insiders reveal the party would like to field candidates from least three more seats in the Valley in addition to Uri, Dooru and Kokarnag which are this time represented by its candidates.

Senior NC leaders like Mustafa Kamal are already opposing any electoral alliance with the Congress. Kamal maintains that instead of helping his party, the Congress would like it to give up places where the NC's support alone could make victory possible for the Congress nominees.

Forming an alliance like the two parties did after 2008 elections after both had fought the elections separately and forming an alliance to fight the elections jointly in 2014 are two different ball games.

There is another view on this. Many in the NC and the Congress suggest the two should fight the 2014 elections separately and then get together to form a coalition depending upon who wins how much.

Political expediency - more than family ties or idealistic priorities - would determine friends and enemies for 2014 elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 19-12-2013)

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