“Could it be that Sajad Lone faced the stark choice of either breaking with the alliance or seeing his party split?”
The People’s Conference, led by Sajad Lone, has been forced to break from the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) because of the extraordinary pulls and pressures of trying to install chairpersons in the new district councils in Jammu and Kashmir.
Lone faced the stark choice of either breaking with the alliance or seeing his party split. He was hobbled by the fact that a very powerful faction in his party, with an extensive network of ground support, controls a large number of the new councillors.
These councillors would likely vote the way that the faction’s leaders say, not as Lone wants.
The faction is led by the Ansari family, which is powerful in business and politics alike. Not wanting to share council chairs with alliance partners, the Ansaris apparently prefer to build partnerships with independents and other parties to install chairpersons.
J&K: Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference Pulls Out of Gupkar Alliance
Lone and Ansari have blamed the proxy candidates that parties within the PAGD put up. Insiders say that, while this is true, they too had backed some who contested as independents. Those who’ve been watching developments closely say that friction between the two leaders was intense in the weeks up to the break.
Kupwara Tug-Of-War & Why Lone Was Forced To Finally Break With The Alliance
Even in PC’s pocket borough, Kupwara, insiders say that Lone can only depend on the loyalty of three of the six councillors who won as his party’s candidates. That left him on a weak wicket while negotiating with the National Conference.
Those who have been following the negotiations say that NC wanted one of its four winners to be the council chairperson. The support of just three from the PC would have sufficed for the NC.
The NC’s argument apparently was that it ceded many of the constituencies to the PC, which it might have fought and won if it had contested separately.
On the other hand, the Ansari faction wanted one of its loyalists to be the district chairperson.
Lone was caught in a cleft stick between these abusive internal and external pulls and pressures.
He wanted to do his utmost not only to ensure that someone he could depend on got the district chair but that neither his party nor his alliance split over the issue.
It was an impossible challenge. Finally, after weeks of tense, angry, and sometimes abusive talks, he was forced to break with the Alliance on Tuesday,
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Complicated Permutations In Baramulla
The situation is even more complicated in Baramulla district, where too PC would like to get the chair for one of its three elected members.
Since the Ansaris are said to have a strong influence over them, Lone might have been left with nothing in the Baramulla council if his party had split.
No single party won more than three seats in that council, but the PAGD parties together won seven of the 14 seats (PC’s three, plus two each of the NC and PDP), and might have counted on the two Congress members.
However, the Ansari faction not only counts on the loyalty of the three PC winners, but also of the independents. Possibly in association with the Apni Party, then, it could dominate the Baramulla district council.
A Favourite In Baramulla?
According to the grapevine, the ruling establishment tried to make it ‘as easy as it could’ for Safeena Beigh, the wife of former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Beigh, to become chairperson.
It seems like a long shot, however, for she contested as an independent, and all the other independents would have to be convinced to back her. Beigh may get the support of the Apni Party, though.
Shoaib Lone, who contested against her on an Apni Party ticket, seems convinced that his loss was facilitated. Nevertheless, he seems to have accepted it with good grace as the party line.
He seems to believe that even his mother’s defeat from another constituency in the district was arranged, so that she could not become the chairperson.
His mother is the widow of a former education minister of the state, who was killed by militants. That assassination served as Shoaib’s shock launch into politics.
The Tale Of A ‘Misspelled’ Name
The administration has gone into strange convolutions about which districts to reserve for women. One-third of the chairpersons are to be women, in accordance with the Central zilla parishad law.
Initially, an alphabetical list of districts was shared that showed the first, fourth, seventh, etc reserved for women. In that list, Budgam was spelled as ‘Badgam’, so that Baramulla was fourth—and so, reserved for a woman. Some observers speculated about the reasons behind the uncommon spelling.
Now, a list has been notified with Budgam spelt normally, but the order of reservations changed to third, sixth, ninth, etc. This way too, Baramulla is reserved for a woman.
Apni Party’s Hopes In The Valley
Meanwhile, hectic efforts have been underway in Bandipora district, led by a leading light of the district’s politics, to ensure that independents along with the Apni Party can elect a chairperson. On paper, they have six seats against seven of the PAGD and Congress.
The rumour mill talks of major allurements to persuade independents and others in some districts.
According to observers there, the Shopian district chair is already in the bag for an Apni Party winner, whose father is very influential. On the face of it, the PAGD won eight seats in Shopian’s 14-member district council, but strenuous efforts on behalf of this particular winner got underway there immediately after results were announced.
In light of all this, the only four (out of ten) Valley districts where the PAGD appears certain to get chairpersons installed are Anantnag, Kulgam, Ganderbal, and Budgam. It is struggling in Srinagar, and faces tough challenges elsewhere in the Valley.
Top Guns In Srinagar
The Srinagar contest is perhaps most crucial for the long term. For, the top leaders of the National Conference (Farooq Abdullah) and Apni Party (Altaf Bukhari) are directly matched in a metaphorical hand-wrestling match for the support of the seven (of 14) independents.
Whereas Apni Party’s putative successes in Bandipora and Shopian would be ascribed to local satraps, a Srinagar win would really mark Apni Party as the rising star.
While rumours of large tranches of money will no doubt swirl (there is talk of a Rs 75 lakh offer), the persuasive power of accompanying political arguments may be the clincher in at least some cases. That would indicate better future prospects.
BJP Pushing Up Its Prospects
The chair in Pulwama district might even go to the BJP’s young (law student) winner in that district, or to an independent with whom the ruling party is comfortable.
This is despite the fact that the PDP won seven of the 14 seats in that district, and should easily have been able to elect a president with the help of the two NC winners. However, other factors are evidently at play.
Many observers are convinced that the PDP’s youth leader, Waheed Para, would easily have managed the chairperson’s election if he had not been locked up on terror charges.
Para is one of the seven PDP faces elected to the Pulwama district council.
The BJP is in any case confident of winning six of the ten district chairs in the Jammu division. In addition, it is trying, in tandem with Apni Party and others, to install chairpersons in three more. Outside the Valley, then, it is even possible that the PAGD may get the chair of only the Poonch district council.
If all its moves succeed, the ruling establishment may even be able to install favourites in 15 of Jammu and Kashmir’s 20 districts.
Perhaps this indicates that it has major development plans, for which it wants its favourites to claim credit. One hopes there will at least be commendable development after such a nerve-wracking struggle to get chairpersons elected.
(David Devadas is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage’ in Kashmir (OUP). He tweets @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors’ own. The ANN News neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)