Srinagar: While consensus eludes the Congress over who should lead it in the coming assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir, there is unanimity that the honeymoon with the National Conference must end.
Congress general secretary Ambika Soni and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had day-long discussions with party leaders in Srinagar to chalk out the future strategy and identify reasons for the Lok Sabha election debacle. The meeting was also attended by Saifuddin Soz, president of the state Congress unit.
Supporters of Soz and Azad clashed during the meeting over who should lead the Congress campaign during the elections – as the chief ministerial candidate.
But where the two factions had no disagreement with each other was that these elections must not be fought in alliance with the National Conference.
Azad had recently called on PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed at his Srinagar residence, fuelling speculation that the Congress had chosen to mend fences with the Peoples Democratic Party after it won all three Lok Sabha seats from the Kashmir Valley.
Although Azad said his visit was a courtesy call, no one has forgotten how the PDP brought down Azad’s government in 2008 over the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board land allotment row.
The PDP has been very bitter about Azad’s role since the 2008 assembly elections after which he threw all his weight in favour of an alliance with the National Conference to keep the PDP at bay.
PDP insiders openly say if there has to be any future understanding with the Congress, it will have to be directly with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
As of now, the PDP has ruled out fighting elections in alliance with any other party.
“We are fighting all the 87 assembly seats on our own. There will be no electoral alliance with anybody,” PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told IANS, without commenting on any future permutation.
On Tuesday, Ambika Soni said she had heard the views of party colleagues. The comments appeared to indicate that most legislators and others wanted to dump the National Conference.
Although the Congress and the National Conference have ruled the state in coalition since 2009, there have been times when senior leaders of both the parties have attacked one another.
One of the first in the National Conference to target the Congress was senior party leader Mustafa Kamal, also the uncle of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
He has not only criticized the Congress for acting against the interests of the National Conference but has also blamed the Congress for acting against the interests of the Kashmiri people.
Kamal had to be checked by National Conference patron and elder brother Farooq Abdullah. He was temporarily suspended as the spokesman of the party after issuing a statement against Rahul Gandhi in 2012.
After the Lok Sabha drubbing, Kamal has squarely blamed his party’s alliance with the Congress. He said the Congress rank and file didn’t vote for the National Conference.
Whether the Congress and the PDP come closer because of political expediency after the assembly elections depends on which party gets how many seats.
But the fact remains that the bon homie between the National Conference and the Congress is over.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)