New Delhi: The Omar Abdullah-led National Conference (NC) emerged as the single largest party in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly and immediately signalled that it would align with the Congress party to stake a claim for forming the next government in the border state that saw an unexpectedly high voter turnout in the seven-phase election.
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Separatist groups had called for a boycott of the elections, which ended on 24 December, amid heightened tension between the two countries after the 26 November terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
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While Abdullah said he prefers an alliance with the Congress, at least two Congress leaders said on condition of anonymity that they were not averse to a coalition with the NC. “Personally, I will prefer to have an alliance with the Congress,” Abdullah said in Srinagar.
The NC was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre from 2000 to 2004.
Victorious: National Conference president Omar Abdullah. PTI
However, no final decision on any tie-up has been taken yet. A high-level meeting of the Congress was held at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence in the evening to discuss the role the Congress should play in the post-poll scenario.
Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi termed the elections a “vote for democracy”. Gandhi also said that it was a “lesson to be learnt by our neighbour”, an apparent reference to Pakistan, in the backdrop of the renewed friction between the two countries.
The NC retained 28 seats in the 87-member assembly; People’s Democratic Party, or PDP, won 21, the Congress 17, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, 11 and others, including independents, 10. While the PDP gained 5 seats and the BJP 10, the Congress lost three compared with the previous election.
The total voter turnout in the state in the elections was 61.5%; 44 constituencies witnessed at least 60% turnout compared with 20 in the 2002 elections, which saw a turnout of 43.7%. While the highest voter turnout was 81.58% (Uri) and the lowest 19.96% (Sopore) in 2008, the figures were 78.97% (Zanskar) and 7.16% (Anantnag), respectively, in the last state polls.
The BJP, which had only one seat in the previous assembly, was the the biggest gainer.
Analysts attributed the BJP’s improved performance in the Jammu region to its active role in the 63-day campaign against the Congress-PDP government’s decision to revoke the transfer of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board after the Kashmir region protested against the move.
Most of the gains made by the BJP were at the cost of the Congress with the former wresting more than eight seats from the latter in the Jammu region.
The political turmoil over the Amarnath Shrine issue had led to the fall of the Congress-PDP government with the latter withdrawing support. The state has been under President’s rule since July this year.
“The results clearly showed that Amarnath agitation has led to a deep polarization among the electorate,” said Subrata Mukherjee, professor at the department of political science in Delhi University.
He also said future elections were unlikely to produce a clear winner. “It is a kind of unstable politics with three regions—Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh—having no common ground to meet. The political parties, which are coming together to form the government, have to struggle to find a common ground.”
Saifuddin Soz, Union minister and president of the Congress’ state unit, alleged that the BJP won the “lead in the Jammu region by playing divisive politics”.
“Although the election was significant because it was a vote for democracy, it is unfortunate that the Congress had to pay price for its decent politics. But the BJP’s divisive politics will be shortlived,” Soz said.
Chaudhary Lal Singh, a Congress leader and Lok Sabha member from Udhampur, said he was disappointed with the verdict. “The voting pattern shows how divided the people of Jammu and Kashmir are. We have defeated militancy together, but we are still divided,” he said.
The BJP defended its stance, saying that the fractured verdict was the result of policies pursued by the Congress, PDP and NC to appease separatist groups. “It is unfortunate that the Congress has not learnt any lessons and it continues to ignore national interest and internal security and support the separatist policies. The message is loud and clear that you cannot neglect these issues,” said BJP vice-president Mukthar Abbas Naqvi.
PTI contributed to this story.