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The decision of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) to contest Assembly elections together, if and when they are held, is likely to put the squeeze on smaller mainstream parties such as Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference and Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party and may also bother the BJP in the Jammu region.
Former J&K chief minister and PAGD president Farooq Abdullah on Monday made the official announcement about alliance members contesting polls together. Former CM and National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah had dropped hints about a joint contest a month ago and it was also endorsed by Peoples Democratic Party chief and PAGD vice-president Mehbooba Mufti. Once arch-rivals, the NC and the PDP came together with smaller parties in 2020 to form the PAGD and seek the restoration of J&K’s special status that was abrogated on August 5, 2019.
This is not good news for either Lone’s political ambitions or the Apni Party, which Bukhari formed two years ago after splitting from the PDP. The People’s Conference bagged two seats in the 2014 Assembly elections for the erstwhile J&K state, both of them in Kupwara. The party’s vote share in these two seats was 24.7 per cent, compared to the NC’s 26.7 per cent and the PDP’s 32.2 per cent vote share. If the PDP and NC manage to consolidate their votes, then Lone will be left struggling in these constituencies. The Apni Party, meanwhile, has a galaxy of political leaders but is devoid of a political turf. It is still in the process of creating a cadre base and the general perception of it being a BJP proxy is not going to help.
For the BJP, the PAGD may pose a challenge in Jammu’s Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal regions where the Muslim population is sizable. The two regions account for 16 of Jammu’s 43 Assembly seats. The BJP has a slim chance of success in the Kashmir Valley — in the 2014 Assembly elections, it secured the highest votes but its vote share in the Valley was 2.2 per cent and it failed to open its account — but in Jammu, it used to sail through as the Hindu votes used to get consolidated in its favour while the votes in Chenab and Pir Panjal used to get divided between the NC, the PDP, and the Congress. Political experts said there was a growing sense among Muslims in Chenab and Pir Panjal that they need to consolidate their votes.
What about the Congress?
The biggest challenge to the PAGD’s objective of consolidating this vote base may be Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former J&K CM. While the Congress is expected to have a tactical alliance with the PAGD, if Azad forms a new political party before the elections it could damage the alliance’s prospects in these regions.
But if the Gandhis decide against allying with the PAGD — the party had to beat a hasty retreat when it associated itself with the alliance before the District Development Council (DDC) polls in 2020 — the Congress could eat into the coalition’s votes in the Valley.
The biggest task for the NC and the PDP, however, is going to be motivating its cadre and mobilising them for candidates belonging to each other’s parties. The parties are also likely to have to deal with aspiring candidates who will have to forego their seats because of a seat adjustment pact. In the run-up to the DDC polls, Lone fell out with the PAGD after accusing the coalition’s members of fielding proxy candidates against each other.
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