by Iftikhar Gilani
(from kashmirtimes)

NEW DELHI, Sep 11: The wheel has turned full circle. Congress MP Sachin Pilot from Rajasthan has stepped into shoes of his late father Rajesh Pilot, a former Union Minister, to broker yet another deal between the Congress and the National Conference (NC) in the upcoming Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.The last time the NC had aligned with the Congress was in 1986 when Rajesh Pilot worked out a “disastrous” Rajiv Gandhi-Farooq Abdullah accord that saw the alliance win the elections in 1987 and Dr Farooq Abdullah become the chief minister. The experiment, however, boomeranged as the tactics they adopted in the polls gave birth to militancy in 1989.

The Congress is, therefore, treading carefully in entering into any electoral alliance with the National Conference, while Sachin, a son-in-law of Dr Farooq Abdullah, is quietly busy preparing ground for roping in the Kashmir’s regional party to give an edge to the Congress in the elections. He was the man behind the scene getting NC around to support the government in the trust vote in Lok Sabha in July.

He is reportedly coordinating closely with former RAW chief A S Dulat, who has been the Centre’s points man for Kashmir and who recently projected Dr Abdullah’s son Omar, a former union minister and now NC President, as the next chief minister.

Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has been also campaigning for long for a full-fledged alliance with the NC since last year when his alliance partner Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) started showing tantrums, but the Congress leadership has so far torpedoed every move he made to tie up with Dr Abdullah’s party.

Insiders in the Congress Party say there may not be a formal alliance with the NC, but they do not rule out a political rapprochement with it as the leadership no more envisages any truck with the PDP that walked out of the Congerss-led coalition government, resulting in its collapse.

They said the combined lobbying of Sachin Pilot and Azad may persuade the Congress to veer around to be friendly with the NC as the Centre would have to bank upon it to provide semblance of credibility to the coming Assembly polls, particularly when the intelligence agencies fear the lowest ever turnout in the elections because of the changed scenario due to the separatists’ continuous campaign in the valley.

Sachin is believed to have convinced the Abdullahs who control reins of NC that their relationship with the Congress would be good for Kashmiris as well as good for the nation. Those in the valley, however, say the Kashmiris have still not forgiven the NC for the tie-up with the national party that has bestowed upon them two decades of harassment by the central forces and the militants.

“The Abdullahs are trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hound,” says a senior NC leader who wouldn’t like to be quoted. This view is shared by senior and vocal NC leader Ali Mohammad Sagar who stated that time is not ripe for polls in view of the prevailing circumstances.

The Abdullahs, however, would not lose a chance to come back to power, although they don’t want to offend the street mood either. “Given the right assurances, they will go for elections, even though public sentiment seems against it,” analysts here said.

The father and son have been quite diplomatic on the issue of holding the elections now. While Omar Abdullah told the Election Commission here on Monday that the present atmosphere was not conducive for polls, the same day his father and NC’s patron Dr Farooq Abdullah asked for early elections.

They later tried to cover up contradiction in the stand with a statement that an elected government is always better than the governor’s rule. “The government should reach out to the people to ensure a healthy participation in the electoral process. No doubt even a low turnout will result in the formation of a government,” said the press statement.

With Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalswami indicating his eagerness to conduct polls on time in October-November, the Centre will be banking on the NC to povide credibility to he elections as the PDP, the other regional party of the valley, is not only opposing the elections but it has started lending voice to the separatists’ agenda and may even boycott the polls.

The Centre as well as the Congress appear divided on the timing of the elections in Jammu and Kashmir. While one section insists on a breather, after the spell of agitations, to inject some CBMs (confidence building measures) before the polls, another section believes any delay in elections would amount to “surrender” before the separatists.

Those pressing for the elections now say the separatists would not change their stand even if the elections are delayed and held in March. “After all they are not going to contest polls; they will continue their campaign for boycotting polls. So why not conduct elections now and hand over reins to a fairly elected government,” a top government functionary asked.

The analysts say the PDP has lost credibility in the Kashmir valley despite its leaders lately mouthing slogans of the separatists. It has also lost the vote bank in Jammu region first because of the Amarnath land row and then because of its opposition to the deal struck by the state government with the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti.

In contrast, the NC has not lost the Hindu base much in the Jammu region as some of its prominent leaders and partymen actively participated in the Sangharsh Samiti-sponsored agitation. The analysts say this may help the party in retaining the seats that it mostly wins from Jammu region.

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