Despite continuing parleys between the National Conference (NC) and the Congress, a pre-poll alliance between the two parties in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to remain only a half-baked cake.
In the 16th Lok Sabha, Jammu-Poonch, Kathua-Udhampur and Ladakh seats were represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Srinagar by the NC and Baramulla by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). However, bypolls for the Anantnag seat could not be held after Mehbooba Mufti vacated it in 2016 to become the Chief Minister of the state.
In order to consolidate the anti-BJP vote in the Muslim areas of Jammu and Chenab Valley region, where both the NC and the Congress have strong pockets of influence, the leaderships of the two parties have been engaged in talks to form a pre-poll alliance.
"The logic is very clear. In the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, candidates of both Congress and NC lost in constituencies because the anti-BJP vote got divided between the two parties giving a clear advantage to the BJP.
"The objective of the talks to work out a pre-poll alliance between the two parties is to consolidate the anti-BJP vote," said a senior leader of the Congress who did not want to be named, as the prospects of an alliance between the two parties are still under discussion.
While the NC seems to have no problem in supporting the Congress candidates in the two Lok Sabha constituencies of Kathua-Udhampur and Jammu-Poonch, the Congress is reportedly pressing for making the pre-poll alliance more broad-based by extending it to the state Assembly polls.
Insiders said as a goodwill gesture towards the Congress party, the NC has decided not to field its candidate for the Kathua-Udhampur Lok Sabha seat provided senior Congress leader and former state Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad contests from this seat.
The Congress leaders say the party needs to utilise the services of Azad at the national level and as such the party might not be in a position to spare him to fight the Lok Sabha election from the state.
The NC has definite pockets of influence in many Assembly segments that constitute the two Lok Sabha seats of Jammu and Udhampur.
The NC has sizable influence in Kishtwar, Doda, Rajouri, Poonch, Bhaderwah, Darhal, Gool-Gulabgarh, Nagrota, Bishnah, Bannihal and some other areas that form the voting segments for the two Lok Sabha constituencies in the Jammu division.
Sources in the NC said the party would also favourably consider supporting the Congress candidate for the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat once the pre-poll alliance is decided, but added that there cannot be any pre-poll alliance with the Congress for the state Assembly elections.
The NC has already decided to field its candidates in the three Lok Sabha seats in the Valley -- Dr. Farooq Abdullah from Srinagar and Muhammad Akbar Lone from Baramulla, while the party's choice of candidate for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat is yet to be announced.
Reports also indicate that the Congress high command has expressed a desire that if the two parties agree on seat sharing for the Lok Sabha polls, they should do the same for the state Assembly elections.
The Congress request is something the NC does not want to accede to, because the NC feels while the Congress influence is limited to four to five seats, there is every likelihood of the NC doing better in the 46 Assembly constituencies in the Valley provided it fights on its own.
The NC leadership does not want to share seats in the Valley with the Congress as it believes the likely electoral losses of the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP would become NC's electoral gains.
The PDP won 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, the CPI-M one and others 6 seats in the 87-member 2014 Assembly elections.
Given the political compulsion of the NC not to share seats with the Congress for the state Assembly elections while it is ready for a pre-po ll alliance limited to the Lok Sabha elections, the prospects of a larger pre-poll alliance between the two parties remain half-baked idea.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)