Structural not situational

NC’s defeat has been caused by the degeneration of its political culture


The top brass of the National Conference ( NC) has reacted to the results of the Parliamentary elections with shock and surprise. This is strange. A blind man with his eyes covered could have seen this coming had he kept his ear to the ground. The wise men of the party have identified the style of campaigning, perceived complicity in Afzal Guru’s hanging and the resentment against the “ teenocide” of 2009- 10 as the proximate reasons for the defeat. As such, the electoral performance of NC is being seen as “ one time” reversal caused by a set of incidental or contingent events and circumstances. This is a wrong diagnosis arrived at by pursuing a flawed line of enquiry. The truth is far bitter and even far less comforting. Introspection, as being done by the party leadership, is welcome. However, if it results in measures like lifting the “ sms ban on pre- paid sim cards”, or withdrawal of a “ fiscally necessitated” job policy or using financial institutions to dole out ad hoc concessions, it points not only to a bankruptcy of ideas but also political poverty. These steps amount to, as the colloquial saying goes, “ yupis duin shupe ” ( using a winnow kee to hold a flood)! NC’s loss in the Parliamentary elections is not just an electoral debacle. Nor is it a situational poll reversal. Or merely the anti- incumbency of the last five years. It is all that and much more. It is not a debacle, which connotes suddenness, but degeneration which is long term structural and systemic. The consequence of it being diagnosed as sudden debacle is that the entire blame is being put at the doorstep of Omar Abdullah and his team of young advisors. True, Omar Abdullah lacks political gravitas and backroom guile. True also that his core team lacks political maturity and organizational method. But the fact is that the “ rot” in NC precedes them by two decades and more. The seeds for what has happened in the 2014 elections were sown long ago by Farooq Abdullah and his bandicoots. His obscene acts were laughed off as lighthearted banter, his perversities were interpreted as idiosyncrasies, his dishonesty was eulogized as expediency, his decadence was valued as indulgence, and his insincerity was condoned as flippancy. His cheap theatrics became political tactic of the NC. This gradually degenerated into institutionalized disrespect for the people of Kashmir, their sensibilities and their aspirations. Overtime this got concretized as dissent and eventually has now surfaced as anger and hate. It is with these traits and from those times that the seeds of NC’s disaster have been sown. Omar Abdullah understood this. And it didn’t escape any keen observer’s attention that in the initial two years of his term, he airbrushed his father and drew political lineage and sustenance directly from his grandfather. Sadly, he capitulated at the first signs of trouble. The first real election that NC fought under the family leadership was only in 1977. Sheikh Abdullah, on the rebound from the Congress back stabbing, led NC to a decent victory by securing a third of the total votes polled. During his period the vote share remained stable. Riding a sympathy vote from the death of Sheikh Abdullah, NC’s share of votes increased under Farooq Abdulla’s leadership increased to an all- time high of 46%. True to his personal nature and political acumen, he squandered the mandate rather quickly. Thereafter, in the Parliamentary elections of 1996, NC polled 26% votes. This dip was obviously due to an overhang of secessionism. In 1998, it recouped its share back to 33%. From then on it has been a downhill slide. NC vote share of 46% when Farooq took over the reins of NC in 1984 declined to 19 per cent when he handed over the reins to Omar Abdullah. On his part Omar Abdullah hasn’t been able to stem the slide. On the contrary he accelerated it. The significant aspect of the decline is that with every election NC’s share of votes has declined. As the accompanying graph shows, it was 36% in 1998 which declined to 29% in 1999 declining further to 28% before reaching 19% in 2009. Now it has plummeted to 11%. To add insult to injury, this 11% vote share includes some votes of its coalition partner! So, it may well turn out to be that NC’s own vote share is in single digits. This didn’t happen overnight. The same pattern is observed in the case of assembly election. NC’s share has dramatically come down from more than 47% in 1977, to less than 23% in 2008. If the current parliamentary shares are extrapolated, NC’s vote share will not be more than 14% in the elections at the end of the year. As an obvious consequence of this decline, the number of seats won by NC has come down. In the assembly from a high of 57 to a low of 28. Despite the fact that the number of seat in the assembly increased from 76 to 87, the number of seats won by NC has declined. In 1977, NC got a 62% of the seats, while in 2008 it managed to win only 32% of the seats. What this decline shows is the dwindling of its cadres and erosion in its support base. Earlier it had shrunk in the Jammu region and South Kashmir. This time around it has shriveled in North as well as Central Kashmir. In addition to its actions, what hastened the decline of its fortunes are two structural features; coalition and opposition. Historically, NC is used to neither! From 2002 to 2014, the decline in NC’s electoral strength is directly related to the emergence of a competing regional party. In the assembly, PDP got 9% in 2002 and increased its share to 15% in 2008. While PDP gained 6 percentage points in their vote share, NC lost 5 percentage points. In the last two assembly elections, the vote share of PDP has increased 66 per cent. Similarly, between the Parliamentary elections of 2004 and 2014, PDP’s share has gone up from 12% to 21%; an increase of 75%. This is a nightmarish situation for a political party like NC that has been weaned on getting 74 of 76 candidates elected unopposed! In this context, the planned efforts afoot to clean up of the mess in NC, welcome and long overdue as they are, can be evocatively summarized by the local saying, “ Doone galre wular pazun” ( To clean the Wular Lake with a walnut kernel)!