Is Farooq Abdullah’s NC nervous about facing the Lok Sabha elections?

Story by  Ahmed Ali Fayyaz | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 27-03-2024
Omar Abdullah with locals in Kashmir
Omar Abdullah with locals in Kashmir


Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/Srinagar

The Faroioq Abdullah-led J&K National Conference which enjoyed a monopoly over Kashmir’s electoral politics for over 50 years is faced with existential threat in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. Bereft of divisive and emotive issues that it used to run its election campaigns on in the past, the party is seeking a ‘referendum’ over its stand on Article 370 in the election.

The NC’s top brass - the former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah - have made statements to this effect at their public rallies.

By all reckoning, the party founded by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is running late for the election. It’s yet to announce its candidates. As of now, only the BJP, Congress, and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) have announced their candidates for some seats. 

Before 2000, NC has rarely lost an election. Right from the day of Sheikh’s return to the mainstream in 1975, the NC has swept the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir.

The NC’s most challenging election was the 1977 Assembly elections when a grand alliance under the banner of the then ruling party at the Centre, the Janata Party, was pitted against it. Prime Minister Morarji Desai and other senior leaders of his party addressed massive rallies in the valley while Sheikh Mohd Abdullah remained sick all through the campaign.

Again, NC won by bagging 47 out of 76 seats. In the valley, it won 39 out of 42, leaving just one to Jamaat-e-Islami and two to the Janata Party. NC repeated the victory in 1983—around a year before Farooq Abdullah’s government was toppled by Indira Gandhi’s Congress party while engineering certain defections.

However, for the first time in an election, it lost power to Mufti Sayeed’s PDP and Congress combined in 2002. Notwithstanding this setback, NC won two seats in Kashmir and left only one to the PDP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004. It again swept all the three Kashmir seats in 2009 and 2019.

NC suffered a crushing defeat in 2014 when its candidates lost on all three of its Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir to the PDP. Even its star campaigner and patriarch Farooq Abdullah was defeated by the PDP’s Tariq Hamid Karra in Srinagar. 

Later that year, it also lost the Assembly elections bringing its tally to the lowest ever 15 seats in a House of 87.

“Losing the Lok Sabha election of 2014 was a routine for the NC. This time around NC has very high stakes. Losing this time would be equal to losing its existence. It will heavily impact the UT’s first Assembly elections which could be following in September”, said a senior journalist and political analyst wishing anonymity.

NC Leaders Farooq and Omar Abdullah at a party meeting

Opinion is critically divided in favor of and against the NC. “We had been struggling to get a tiller-tractor on loan and subsidy for 10 years. Every time the Agriculture Department gave it to undeserving people who had no land. They just grabbed the subsidy and disappeared. This time, the system is fully online and transparent. We are getting it without any hassles and without paying a penny to anybody”, said Abdul Rashid Parray of Khansahab.

According to the Jammu and Kashmir Bank officials, over 40,000 farmers like Parray are getting the benefit of the government scheme on the Kisan Credit Card in the Budgam district alone in the current year. Most of these beneficiaries speak against the former ruling parties, the NC and the PDP, alleging that they were “neck-deep in corruption”.

On the other hand, first time voters like Tabinda Hoor of Budgam insist that they would support any party which could bring back Article 370 and Statehood.

“Now that everybody has rejected terrorism and separatism, there should be no objection to restoration of the Kashmiris’ political and cultural identity within the framework of the Indian Constitution”, she asserted. When it was pointed out to her that even the Supreme Court had confirmed the abrogation of Article 370, she said that everything would return after the change of the government at the Centre.

After Prime Minister Modi’s recent public meeting in Srinagar, many youngsters are praising the restoration of peace, trade, tourism, and education. “Civilian killings, attacks on security forces, hartal calendars, encounters, violent demonstrations, stone pelting, and pellet guns have vanished. Trade, tourism, education, everything is flourishing. What else do the people want?” said an Assistant Professor at Government-run Sri Pratap Singh College. “NC or PDP can no more take the people for granted”, he said.

NC’s predicaments are not as severe as that of Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP which has been deserted by over 20 of its senior leaders and ex-Ministers in the last 5 years. 

Ex-Minister Basharat Bukhari, who had come in from PDP, and a defeated candidate, Manzoor Ahmad Wani of Khansahab, are the two-odd leaders who have quit the NC. However, Jammu NC has lost several senior leaders including DS Rana, ex-Ministers Surjit Singh Salathia and Mushtaq Bukhari, and ex-MLC Shehnaz Ganai.

“Our only problem is the ST status that has been granted to a population of 12 lakh Paharis by the Modi government recently. Because of this, we will be fighting a tough battle with the BJP or the BJP’s proxy candidate in South Kashmir. But we are hopeful to get a substantial vote from the Gujjar and Pahari-dominated 7 segments of Poonch and Rajouri in addition to our majority vote in 5 segments in Kashmir if we field a right candidate”, former NC Minister Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan asserted.

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Some of Farooq Abdullah’s recent speeches, nonetheless, betray a lack of confidence in the NC camp. He has called the EVMs “the big thief” and vowed to bring back the ballot paper “whenever we return to power”.