Srinagar: Two senior National Conference (NC) leaders, including Omar Abdullah’s close aide Devinder Rana, have quit the party and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in what is seen as a significant development in the region’s politics.
Rana, 51, and Surjit Singh Slathia, 61, joined BJP after resigning from NC on Sunday. This happened in the presence of Union ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, Dharmendra Pradhan, and Jitendra Singh, who is also Rana’s elder brother.
The resignations of the two Jammu-based leaders have upset many in the NC, which had exhibited a remarkable success in the District Development Council (DDC) polls held in the region a year ago. An engineering graduate, Rana, who has been in politics for nearly 15 years, also served as Omar Abdullah’s political advisor between 2009 to 2013. In 2013, he was appointed as the provincial president of NC from Jammu.
Imran Nabi, the provincial spokesperson for NC, said “Dr Farooq Abdullah had received and accepted” the resignations of Salathia and Rana, adding that no further action or comment was necessary.
Following the resignations, party general secretary Ali Muhammad Sagar issued a notification regarding elections for the post of provincial presidents for Jammu and Kashmir to be held on October 16, 2021. According to Imran, the party until then has nominated senior party leader advocate Rattan Lal Gupta as provincial president for Jammu.
Rana had won elections from the Nagrota constituency during the 2014 Assembly elections when a BJP wave swept the winter capital with wins in as many as 25 seats. The national party reported a higher vote share than the regional parties. Still, NC managed to hold the fort in the Hindu majority Jammu with Rana as Omar Abdullah’s most trusted lieutenant.
The fresh resignation in NC’s Jammu camp comes six years after senior party member Ajat Shatru Singh, grandson of the last Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh, left NC to join BJP in 2014. Omar Abdullah, however, had termed the former MLC as “deadwood” in the party that was clearing itself out.
With Rana leaving the party, NC has lost its “face” in Jammu.
Unlike other regional political parties, NC, which had fared well in the DDC polls in Jammu, will have to rethink their dominance in the region, which has been slipping away from the Kashmir-based leadership. People have often accused the leaders from Kashmir of neglecting Jammu.
Rana’s decision to join BJP is seen as a move toward an emerging political landscape, when parties like the People’s Conference (PC), Apni Party, and BJP are consolidating their base ahead of elections in the Union territory. Leaders like Sajad Lone of PC have suggested that elections be held in March next year, while Jammu-based outfits argue that the next chief minister should be from the winter capital.
Rana has also expressed his confidence in the Jammu Declaration, a political roadmap that seeks statehood for Jammu province only and not for the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. “Nothing will deter me in realising this objective, and I will single-mindedly work for it even at the peril of my political career,” Rana said during a meeting he held at Nagrota before announcing his new decision.
He said the Jammu Declaration has “caught the imagination of the people in general and the intelligentsia, civil society and the entire political class in particular as it holds promise for marginalised segments of society and neglected regions and sub-regions.”
“Jammu has to play a major role in making the Declaration a success, and this will be a befitting contribution towards the idea of J&K and the idea of India,” Rana told his followers.
Party insiders considered NC an “unbreachable fort” while People’s Democratic Party lost over 20 leaders in the past few years. Both parties have been left high and dry due to developments since the clampdown in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019. However, the exit of Rana is likely to open a fissure in NC that could shift the political balance in the region.