As Lok Sabha elections draw close, Kashmir based political parties play to the galleries. There is no concern by any of them on the impact that their statements will have on the long term. Most see the short-term desire for gaining votes and winning seats. Their anti-India tirade would only increase when State Assembly elections are announced. If they ever come to power post the State elections, the same venom spitting politicians would swear allegiance to the Indian constitution and act in stark contrast to their comments made in the public domain during the battle for the ballots.
Farooq Abdullah doubted the number of casualties in the Pulwama attack, aware that the coffins of the martyrs were laid out in public view in Delhi, while all political leaders paid homage. He also questioned the authenticity of the Balakote strike. His comments were only aimed at conveying to his supporters that he is against the Central Government. It was also aimed at gaining ground from the PDP in the Srinagar constituency from where he seeks re-election.
Omar and Mehbooba have continuously been singing the same tune aimed at creating an anti-centre image for their party. Both have claimed that tampering with Article 370 and 35A would break the bondage of the valley with the rest of India. Mehbooba went ahead and promised to remove the ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami imposed by the Central Government recently. She even stated that arresting the separatists was wrong and talks should be held with them and Pakistan.
To further garner support from locals, Mehbooba visited the homes of slain militants while ignoring innocents killed by militants, including the twelve-year-old Atif Mir. Criticism for killing of innocents and security personnel on leave by militants was subdued by these politicians. Thus, in the overall context they were only playing to the gallery in the valley, knowing that unless they support the existing movement, they are likely to be ignored by the youth. Mehbooba is standing for elections from Anantnag, while Omar is waiting and hoping for another opportunity as CM, post state elections.
Mehbooba, once a coalition partner of the BJP now seeks to challenge and question them at every opportunity. She had even stated that it was a mistake to join in a coalition with them. It is possible that post the state elections, in case no single party emerges, one of the valley based political parties may be compelled to join either the BJP or Congress to form the next Government. They will then immediately start singing a different tune.
None of these politicians have ever made anti-India tirades South of the Pir Panjal or North of Zojila. They are aware that they have almost no political support left in these regions due to their secessionist attitude. In fact, as per the agreement between the NC and the Congress, the NC would leave Jammu for the Congress if it left specific valley seats for them.
The battle for the three valley seats of Baramulla, Anantnag and Srinagar is expected to be largely between these two parties, with the BJP likely to play some level of spoil sport. Both the NC and PDP are aware that in the present environment, in the state elections expected shortly, neither would win enough votes to gain power singlehandedly in the state. Thus, for their leaders the only option is to enter the Lok Sabha.
This behaviour of both political parties conveys some messages for the nation. As compared to the by pollsof 2016, when polling was low and elections had to be called off due to violence, there is a marked improvement in the security situation. Political parties can campaign and address voters including conduct rallies, in relative security,something which was not possible in 2016. This aspect has neither been appreciated by any political leader nor have they credited security forces for having created this environment.
With separatists under pressure and terrorists on the run, there have been almost no calls for boycott of elections. The anti-national elements appear to have gone underground. Since Pakistan remains under pressure with increased levels of retaliation for ceasefire violations and a continuous threat of an offensive action in case of any misadventure, the region faces less infiltration. Pulwama and Balakote gave India the upper hand and it continues to press it.
International pressure on Pak including from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is also pushing them into maintaining a low profile. The situation does appear conducive for elections, a comment which valley based political parties should have acknowledged.
The NC and the PDP have confined their campaigningmainly to the valley, despite Jammu coming in the first phase of polling on 11 Apr. This indicates that these parties have ensured that the state is divided intothree regions, none of which see eye to eye.
This attitude also sends forth a message that the hold of these two parties is now restricted to a small part of the state, with national parties grabbing a larger chunk. In the case of the present Lok Sabha elections, even if they win, they would only be effective in three of the six seats of the state, hence be almost redundant at the national level.
Thus, when state elections draw close, the battle South of Pir Panjal and North of Zojilawould not witness any major competition from valley based political heavyweights. Such a deep polarization had never existed earlier. Further, with the valley likely being carved by these two parties, the balance of the state would belong to national parties in state elections. Hence a changed scenario may emerge which could change the structure of future State Governments.
It is the fear of losing even their small current bastions that these parties have resorted to a rhetoric which appears anti-national but is realistically only a struggle for survival. They are attempting to safeguard their turfs in the Valley. Hence, they should be ignored. Their comments are only ensuring that they are now heading into the sun set even within the state and would soon be a spent force, which can be ignored.
(The author is former Major General)