In the face of an anti-incumbency mood and a tough contest, the National Conference (NC) is raking up its pet issue of autonomy this election season. The party had first raised the issue in 2000, when it was in power in Jammu & Kashmir. The J&K Assembly had passed the “autonomy resolution”, which promised to accord the pre-1953 status to the state, including electing its own president and prime minister. The NDA-led government at the Centre, though, had struck down the resolution then.
Fourteen years on, NC leader and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah has reopened old wounds. “Autonomy is our birthright and our party will fight for it till it is achieved… I sent five copies of the autonomy resolution to BJP leader L K Advani. Then I was invited by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who told me that they have rejected autonomy,” Abdullah said while addressing his party workers in Srinagar, his Lok Sabha constituency.
In a seat-sharing arrangement with its UPA partner, Congress, the NC is contesting from three of the state’s six Lok Sabha seats. Anantnag, which votes on April 24, Srinagar, which votes on April 30, and Baramulla, which votes on May 7. The NC won all three seats in 2009, but this time it is feeling the heat as opposition PDP has fielded strong candidates such as PDP president Mehbooba Mufti (from Anantnag), former deputy chief minister Muzuffar Baig (from Baramulla) and former finance minister Tariq Qarra (from Srinagar).
Many believe the NC’s harping on autonomy is a “desperate” move. “They are using these slogans to divert attention from the real issues that state is facing,” says Mohammed Shafi, a student of Kashmir University. Abdul Jabbar, a resident of Sopore, feels the NC “forgets” autonomy after the election. “If they were sincere, they would have got autonomy for us long back,” he says. Jabbar’s lament rings true as the NC neither raises the issue at the Centre, despite being a UPA member, nor in the state Assembly.
PDP spokesman and legislator Nayeem Akthar sees the NC leaders’ advocacy for autonomy as “their failure to contribute to the state in terms of development in its latest tenure of six years”. “The NC has kept the agenda of autonomy for its rainy days. Since they have nothing to sell to people, they have again brought up this dead body of autonomy,” he says.
NC spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu sees no harm in it though. “There is nothing like a selling point in politics. In politics you have vision which you put forth before people. As far as autonomy is concerned we have never abandoned it. Not even for a single month. It has nothing to do with elections. We will continue to fight for autonomy till we achieve it.”
Congress, its partner, though, is silent on the issue. The party’s vice-president Ghulam Nabi Monga, says, “Autonomy is their agenda. We have nothing to do with it,” he says.