NEW DELHI : Political parties in Jammu and Kashmir are gearing up for the Lok Sabha elections to be held in April and May, as well as the assembly elections as and when they take place, amid the atmosphere of fear of terror strikes intended to disrupt the electoral process.

The Congress-National Conference (NC) alliance, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have a common thread driving their strategies for the general elections. All of them are focused on who will form the next government in the state and elections to the lower House may be a dress rehearsal for the assembly elections, according to political analysts.

Intelligence units are on high alert over the rising instances of encounters between militants and security forces following the suicide attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama on 14 February that killed 40 personnel of the force. However, this has not deterred the Congress-NC alliance, the PDP and the BJP from firming up their campaign plans to win as many of the six Lok Sabha seats from the state, albeit with an eye on the assembly elections.

The Congress-NC alliance is working hard to increase its tally in the Kashmir valley. NC president and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah had lost to PDP’s Tariq Hameed Karra in Srinagar in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but had subsequently won the 2017 bypoll to the constituency defeating Nazir Ahmed Khan of the PDP.

The PDP , which has only one member of Parliament (MP) in Muzaffar Hussain Baig who represents the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, may find little support on the ground. Its government fell in June 2018, following the BJP’s decision to walk out of the alliance between the two parties in the state. Former chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has, however, decided to contest from Anantnag, which has been vacant since she resigned in April 2016. The party is also readying to field a strong candidate to take on Abdullah in the pivotal Srinagar seat. The party has, however, agreed to stay away from the Udhampur constituency so that secular votes are not divided.

The BJP, which had won the Ladakh, Udhampur and Jammu constituencies in the Jammu region in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with a vote share of 23%, aims to make inroads into the valley. However, political analysts believe that it will be an uphill task for the saffron party to win as many seats this time.

“There are two factors. First, the PDP will have a very tough time, especially having been unceremoniously thrown out of the PDP-BJP alliance last year, and in the wake of the Congress-NC alliance. So, it has lost more than any other party in the state. Second, the BJP has not been able to do much in the state on ground. So, it will not be as easy as it was in 2014. Its only advantage is that it has a national presence," said Noor Ahmad Baba, professor of political science, Kashmir University.

While former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and NC vice-president Omar Abdullah, had in an interview questioned the intentions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi about holding assembly elections, senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar had said that “the state was witnessing a complete constitutional erosion".

The BJP, which had earlier approached the Election Commission to hold the assembly elections, was quick to slam its detractors in Jammu and Kashmir, especially the Congress-NC alliance, and blamed the earlier governments for corroding the ethos of the state.

“Has the Nehruvian course on which Jammu and Kashmir embarked, been a historical blunder? The seven-decade history of the state confronts a changing India with this question. Most Indians rightly believe that erroneous Nehruvian vision has been responsible for J&K’s situation today," finance minister Arun Jaitley said on 28 March.

For the very first time since 1996 assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir have not been held on time. The Lok Sabha polls, however, will be a dry run for the BJP, PDP, NC and the Congress and help them assess where they stand if assembly elections are conducted after the Lok Sabha polls.

The ruling party at the centre has its work cut out in the region, with zero presence in the valley, according to political analysts.

“There is a sharpening polarization when it comes to valley-based parties and the BJP. It’s too small a time frame to expect any kind of metamorphosis. If the Election Commission gives the go-ahead for polls, no party will contest that. However, everything will depend on what happens on 23 May (the day the results of the general elections will be announced)," said Ellora Puri, professor of political science, Jammu University.

Jammu and Kashmir goes to polls in the wake of unabated militancy, with 2018 proving to be the deadliest year since 2008, with 586 fatalities, including 270 terrorists, 157 civilians and 159 security personnel.

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