In a huge jolt to the National Conference, its southern Kashmir face has quit the party and asked people to vote for PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed instead. Mehboob Beg, a former provincial president of the the National Conference, was until today the party’s candidate against Mufti from Anantnag.
Beg, 63, hails from Sarnal village in Anantnag and is the son of Mirza Mohammad Afzal Beg, the state’s first deputy chief minister and aide of National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.
“I am not contesting as a National Conference candidate,” Beg told a convention of NC workers at his home. “I am not joining any party. I extend unconditional support to Mufti sahib. One of the reasons is that there is a wave in favour of him across the state.”
The doctor-turned-politician told his supporters that he has to stop the aggression of the BJP and the RSS in Kashmir and that the NC is not in a position to do that. “The BJP, which is the RSS to me, has launched an attack on Jammu and Kashmir. I don’t think the National Conference has the guts to halt it, the guts it had during the time of Sher-e-Kashmir (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah) and Fakhr-e-Kashmir (his father),” he said. “Only Mufti sahib has the guts to halt the march of Narendra Modi.”
Beg, who won the 2009 parliamentary elections from South Kashmir on an NC ticket defeating PDP president Mehbooba Mufti but lost to her this year, was angry with his party for “not consulting” him and for “ignoring” south Kashmir.
“I was never taken into confidence by the party leadership and my suggestions on organisational matters and development works were ignored,” he told his supporters. “My constituency was ignored. How can I face my people?”
NC provincial president Nasir Aslam Wani dismissed this allegation. “Beg represented the constituency for 12 years. Now he is blaming the government for lack of development in the area. I think he himself is responsible for that,” Wani said.
Beg said the NC announced his candidature in the fifth list as if they were “in doubt” about it. He is the second top National Conference leader after Sheikh Ghulam Rasool to part ways with the party since the elections were announced.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah agreed Beg’s departure is a setback. “There can be no denying that Beg’s departure is something the NC could have done without but it has been on the cards for a couple of weeks,” Omar tweeted. “If the PDP really wants to know what Beg thinks of them just pull out the recordings of his campaign speeches from the last LS polls.”
Provincial president Wani, however, said Beg hadn’t given any indication of his departure. “He was a senior colleague. I met him yesterday; he never gave any indication about this,” he said at a press conference at NC headquarters in Srinagar. “We discussed the dates for filing his nomination papers and campaigning, but now he has decided to campaign for Mufti sahib. It is surprising.”
Wani agreed, “Yes it feels bad,” but added, “In 1977 when most of the leaders left the party, everyone thought it was the end of NC but we won again. We have seen how leaders have left the party but the party sustained all this.”
Beg’s departure comes at a time when the NC is already struggling in south Kashmir. In the last assembly elections, the party won only one of the 16 seats from that region.
Beg has represented Anantnag twice, in 1983 and 2002, and also served as a cabinet minister. In 2008, he lost to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a few months before he would defeat Mehbooba Mufti in the parliamentary elections. For three months from March 2009 to May 2009, he was a member of the legislative council.