Dividing The Mandate  

In recent weeks, the National Conference has drawn the repeated attention to the emergence of the new political leaders and the parties in Kashmir. Both the party’s president Dr Farooq Abdullah and the working president Omar Abdullah have talked about the phenomenon and warned of an attempt to divide the mandate of Kashmir Valley. They have questioned why “new leaders and new parties don’t come up in Jammu and Ladakh, but only in Kashmir”. 

However, this is not the first time there has been such deep unease in Kashmir about the emergence of new parties, particularly closer to polls. This is legitimately seen as an attempt to divide the political mandate and weaken the Valley vis-a-vis the other two regions. 
 
Ironically, the Valley’s progressive political fragmentation is traced to the advent of the PDP as a credible Opposition in 2002. The party ended the NC’s vaunted political hold on Kashmir but it also turned the Congress into a king-maker over the following twelve years. With the Valley’s seats split between them, the NC and PDP were hardly in a position to form the government without the Congress  support. But  with Congress losing its dominant position in Jammu and the BJP stepping into the breach, NC and PDP on a decent showing in polls could once again find themselves obliged to  have to deal with the saffron party, which looks likely to hold on to its gains in Jammu. 

The real debate in J&K   however, isn’t about the so called pros and cons of a single party or a coalition government, but about the splintering of the political mandate of the Valley and how to overcome it. While in parts of Jammu, the consolidation in favour of BJP is a re-assertion of the region’s political power following its marginalization post-1947, the Kashmir Valley sees its fragmented mandate as a sign of its progressive political disempowerment relative to Jammu, a fraught development   interpreted in Valley as a “unique case of the state’s demographic majority turning into a political minority”.

And if the emergence of the new political players is anything to go by, the smaller parties like Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference and the IAS-turned politician Shah Faesal’s J&K People’s Movement could in future further alter the political landscape of the Valley. For one, the PC and JKPM, along with other smaller parties like Rashid Engineer’s Awami Itihad Party, and popular independent leaders like Hakeem Yaseen, are likely to nibble away at the tallies of  the major regional political forces like the NC and the PDP.
 
There is thus a genuine cause of concern for the people of the state, particularly for those in the Valley.  If this is so, all political parties in the Valley have the responsibility to ensure that the votes are not divided to the extent that it marginalizes the political mandate of the majority of the people of the state and consequently their voice.

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