Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a recent interview said that while independence for Jammu and Kashmir stands ruled out, some special arrangement similar to the one made by Britain in respect of Ireland and Scotland should be worked out for the state.
This statement obviously did not go down well with a centrist party like the Congress, which does not approve of any further political re-alignment between the centre and the state.
Senior NC leaders, including Abdullah's uncle Mustafa Kamal, have been engaged in a political diatribe against the Congress, holding it responsible for "betraying" the party's founder, the late Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, "and thereby causing immense damage to the people of Kashmir".
In yet another controversial issue raised by Kamal and his cousin Sheikh Nazir, the once all-powerful NC general secretary, the two said the late Sheikh had never been a party to the state's accession to India in 1947.
"The accession was made by the Dogra maharaja, Hari Singh, when Sheikh sahib was in the maharaja's jail. How could he be held a party to J and K's accession to India in 1947?" they asked while speaking to reporters.
The statement evoked a strong reaction from the Congress and even the separatist leaders.
State Congress president Saif-ud-Din Soz said the statement was not based on historical facts as the maharaja's prime minister, Mehar Chand Mahajan, had approached the late Sheikh in October 1947 asking him to bring around Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom were of the opinion that unless the maharaja's request for accession was backed by the popular mandate of the Sheikh, India would not be able to ask the army to drive away the tribal invaders from Pakistan.
Senior hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said the Sheikh had even written in his autobiography, "Aatish-e-Chinar", that he had played a vital role in getting India's military help to stop the tribal invasion.
The NC has traditionally been a mainstream regional party with a strong base in the Valley and in the Muslim-dominated areas of the Jammu region.
"The NC has always been playing on the pro-Valley card whenever elections are around. This might have helped them in the past, but the people now understand this party can align with anybody as long as it is assured of being in power. Didn't it do that by aligning with the BJP (at the centre)?" asked Naeem Akhtar, chief spokesman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
With the 2014 Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held before the state assembly elections, the drift between the NC and the Congress would make things really difficult for the latter in trying to work out some sort of an alliance with the NC for the general elections.
How can the Congress face the voters in the Jammu and Ladakh regions that are for the complete integration of the state with the rest of the country if the NC continues to seek political packages like internal autonomy or Ireland-Scotland type concessions?
Thus, Congress and NC leaders have been issuing statements that each party would be able to form the next government in Kashmir on its own strength.
And Union Health Minister and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told party conventions in Jammu and Srinagar that the question of future alliances by the Congress would be decided "at the right time".
Obviously Azad was keeping wide open his party's options for aligning with either the NC or the PDP.
On its part, the PDP has been playing its cards very well.
PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has been talking of larger peace initiatives between India and Pakistan, closer contact between the residents on the two sides of the border in divided Kashmir, better trade between the two parts and complete cessation of hostilities on the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border in the state.
But then, in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies. This will be proved during the two elections in 2014.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 31-10-2013)