More join People’s Conference

Sajad Lone fortifies his political presence in Kashmir, as leaders from PDP flock to his party, reports RIYAZ WANI

Four more leaders including two former members of parliament have joined the People’s Conference (PC) led by Sajad Gani Lone further bolstering the party and setting it up as a more viable rival to National Conference and the PDP. Incidentally, all four leaders belong to the People’s Democratic Party.

Earlier also, several leaders from the PDP have either joined the People’s Conference and the Apni Party of Altaf Bukhari, a businessman turned politician. So much so, that the PDP has now been evacuated of all the major leaders with some of them boosting significant popular support in their respective constituencies.

New entrants to the People’s Conference are two former MPs Fayaz Ahmad Mir and Nazir Ahmad Laway, Chairperson District Development Council Baramulla, Safina Baig, and former Member of Legislative Council Murtaza Khan.

Addressing the press conference later, Peoples Conference Chairman Sajad Gani Lone said he had close relations with the four leaders and knew them for a long time.

“Fayaz (Fayaz Mir, former MP) is like my younger brother and I had been urging him for the past 15 years to join our party,” Lone said. “Today he thought he should listen to me and join me.”

Lone said his party would work to address the challenges thrown up by the situation of the last two years. With these entries, the People’s Conference has received a shot in the arm. Layaway who hails from South Kashmir would help the party get a foothold there. The footprint of the Peoples Conference since its founding has otherwise been limited to a part of North Kashmir. The maximum number of Assembly seats that the Peoples Conference has won in an election is two. Safina Beigh who has some support in Baramulla, a district in north Kashmir, could help expand the party’s base in North Kashmir already strengthened by the party’s general secretary Imran Reza Ansari, who commands substantial support at Pattan, a constituency in district Baramulla.

In theory, the influx of the leaders from the PDP and also from the National Conference has set up the People’s Conference as a stronger Kashmir-based party. And should Lone succeed in rallying North Kashmir around his party, it would transform the electoral landscape of the Valley. This would split up Kashmir among the three parties: the National Conference (NC), the PDP, and the PC. That is if we discount the chances of the Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari, which boasts of some leaders, most of them drawn from the PDP, who commands some support in their respective constituencies.

The PDP has traditionally been dominant in South Kashmir and the NC in central Kashmir with Srinagar city as its core base. And now the north where both the NC and the PDP won their seats is witnessing the emergence of the PC as a major player. Whether this new political reality also reflects in the seat tallies of these parties in the future assembly election remains to be seen.

While anywhere else in the country, one more political party would be a part of the normal political process, not in Kashmir. The rising profile of the People’s Conference as a political party is viewed with unease by a large section of the population in Kashmir who think that the formation of more political parties will fragment the Kashmiri mandate and diminish the Valley’s political sway and, say in governance.

And accentuating this unease further is that while Kashmir Valley has witnessed the growth of new parties, Jammu hasn’t. It is still the traditional parties like the BJP, the Congress, the NC, the PDP, and the Jammu-centric Panthers Party that make the province’s electoral landscape.

The political scene in the Valley, on the other hand, has become crowded now. The future assembly election will reveal how it plays out on the ground.