National Conference (NC) and Congress on Wednesday decided to forge an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir.
Interestingly, as per the terms of the alliance announced by NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah and Congress's Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad, the two parties will engage in a "friendly contest" in three of the state's six Lok Sabha seats.
The Congress will not field any candidate against Dr. Abdullah, who will seek re-election from theSrinagar constituency. In return, the NC will not field any candidates in the Jammu and Udhampur Lok Sabha seats in the Jammu division against the Congress.
In the remaining three seats of Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh, it is going to be an electoral fight between the NC and the Congress although the leaders of the two parties have called it a "friendly contest".
There is little doubt that the voter turnout in the three Lok Sabha seats of Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla is going to be low.
The last by-poll was won by Dr. Abdullah from Srinagar in 2017 with just a seven per cent voter turnout.
The seat had fallen vacant after Tariq Hameed Karra resigned from both the Lok Sabha and the PDP. Karra had won the seat for the PDP in 2014.
What if the NC and the Congress voters in Anantnag and Baramulla cast their votes according to party loyalties and thereby pass on the advantage to rivals belonging to other parties like the PDP, the Peoples Conference (PC) headed by Sajad Gani Lone and the J&K People's movement (JKPM) headed by former IAS officer Shah Faesal?
The NC has decided to field Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi from Anantnag. The Congress wanted to field its state president, G.A. Mir.
After the two parties reached an agreement on an alliance, it is now unlikely that Mir would stand from this seat because that would seriously undermine Masoodi's chances to win.
The PDP is likely to field its president, Mehbooba Mufti, or its senior leader, Abdul Rehman Veeri, from Anantnag.
If the NC and the Congress candidates in Anantnag divide their vote bank in such a manner that the PDP candidate polls more votes than the candidates of the NC and the Congress poll individually, would not the friendly contest become a self goal for the two alliance partners?
Similarly, in Baramulla, the NC has fielded senior leader Muhammad Akbar Lone. Lone is likely to be challenged by Shah Faesal of the JKPM, Raja Aijaz Ali of the PC and Abdul Qayoom Wani of the PDP.
Here again, the NC and Congress will fight a friendly match that could cloud Lone's victory prospects. The Congress candidate may poll lesser votes than Lone, but what if the Congress candidate steals Lone' s victory margin against the PC and the JKPM?
Sajad Lone has strong pockets of support in Kupwara district. Shah Faesal might be a new entrant in the political arena, but given the support of the youth he has been getting, the NC cannot wish him away as a challenge to Lone in Baramulla constituency.
In Baramulla, the division of votes between the NC and the Congress is likely to adversely affect the victory chances of Muhammad Akbar Lone.
Another friendly contest between the NC and the Congress is going to be in the Ladakh constituency which was represented by the BJP in the outgoing Lok Sabha.
The BJP has strong pockets of influence among the Buddhist voters, but once the Congress fields its own candidate, the Buddhist vote is likely to be divided.
In contrast, the Muslims of Kargil district, that forms the voting segment of Ladakh constituency, are likely to field a Muslim candidate backed by the two influential Muslim institutions, Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust and the Islamia School.
Once the NC fields its own candidate to engage in a friendly contest with the Congress in Ladakh, this will divide the Muslim votes, thereby posing a serious challenge to the Congress candidate in the Ladakh constituency.
In a nutshell, while Dr. Farooq Abdullah is likely to get re-elected to the Lok Sabha with the Congress opting out of the contest in Srinagar, the fate of both the NC and the Congress candidates in Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh could become uncertain because of the so-called "friendly dangal" between the two alliance partners.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, who belongs to Bhaderwah town in Doda district, is believed to wield influence in the Chenab Valley region and also at other places in Udhampur constituency.
Reports suggest that Azad is unlikely to fight the Lok Sabha elections as he would be busy working at the national level for the Congress.
Azad's absence from the electoral fray could cost the Congress heavily in Udhampur even though the NC would not field a candidate for this seat.
The seat was represented in the Lok Sabha by the BJP's Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the PMO.
The Jammu seat was represented by BJP leader, Jugal Kishore. The BJP has decided to repeat its candidates for Udhampur and Jammu seats.