Five-phase elections start in J&K

The moment Election Commission of India sounded the poll bugle, political activities in the state gathered momentum. Assembly polls for 87 constituencies in the state will held in five-phases starting from November 25 followed by December 2, 9, 14 and 20. Counting will take place on December 23. The current six-year term of Jammu and Kashmir Assembly ends on January 19.

Cut-throat competition between National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party, particularly in the Kashmir region, and Congress and Bharatiya Janta Party in Jammu and Ladakh region cannot be ruled out. Formation of the Third Front, Awami Ittehad Party led by independent legislator Er Rashid and others who may be participating as independents are bound to affect the electoral space. Even People’s Conference led by Sajjad Gani Lone may prove to be a decisive factor as the party holds strong footholds in a few Assembly constituencies in border district Kupwara in north Kashmir.

Many new political parties that have emerged on the political horizon of the state in the recent past are expected to play a decisive role in the elections. Many small political parties came together, in September last year, to forge an alliance to form the Third Front which was later named as People’s United Front (PUF). Similarly, floating of a new political party, Kashmir Democratic Front, by retired bureaucrat and Congress leader, Farooq Renzu Shah and others are expected to cut the vote share of bigger players.

PDP is emerging as a strong contestant in many pockets in Jammu region, especially the Muslim dominated areas in the Chenab valley and that can be a potential threat to Congress. The party is on a strong wicket in Kashmir region, as well. In the last Assembly elections (2008), it secured 21 Assembly seats. National Conference got 28 seats, Congress 17, BJP 11 followed by others.

Several ministers and legislators are in the election fray. 123 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of elections to be held in 15 Assembly segments spread across seven districts of Bandipora and Ganderbal in Kashmir Valley; Kargil and Leh in Ladakh region; Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban in Jammu region. Similarly, 175 candidates are in the fray for 18 Assembly constituencies going to polls in the second phase on December 2 in the state spread over five districts of Kupwara and Kulgam in Kashmir division and Reasi, Udhampur and Poonch in Jammu division.

PDP’s sitting legislator from Bandipora Assembly constituency, Nizamuddin Bhat locks horns with Congress’s Usman Majid. 13 candidates are in the fray in the constituency. Out of the seven contesting candidates in Sonawari Assembly segment, National Conference’s senior leader and sitting legislator Mohammad Akbar Lone has an edge. A triangular contest is expected between Lone, PDP’s Yasir Reshi and Congress’s Imtiaz Ahmad Parray. In Gurez, National Conference’s sitting legislator Nazir Gurezi faces a challenge from Congress’s Faqeer Khan. Four candidates are contesting from this constituency.

In Ganderbal Assembly segment, National Conference faces stiff competition from PDP and Congress. The district has remained a strong foothold of National Conference for decades. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who currently holds the Ganderbal Assembly seat, nominated Ishfaq Ahmed Sheikh as the party’s candidate from this seat. The decision didn’t go down well with several party members, who walked out in protest and joined the competitors. These include Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, who joined PDP, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, who joined Congress and Sheikh Ghulam Ahmad Saloora, who decided to contest the elections independently. This political move is believed to go in favour of PDP candidate, Qazi Mohammad Afzal. Afzal has already won from this constituency in 2002 Assembly elections, defeating Omar Abdullah.

Kangan constituency too has been a strong-hold of National Conference since decades. The party’s sitting legislator and minister Mian Altaf locks horns with PDP’s Bashir Ahmad Mir and Sheikh Ajaz Ahmad of Congress. BJP’s Nazir Ahmad Raina and People Conference’s Mushtaq Ahmad Shah too have their influence in certain pockets of the constituency. National Conference however, is said to have an edge as Mir, Ahmad and Shah are expected to cut each others’ votes.

The Ladakh region is going to witness a close contest between BJP and Congress. Ladakh has four Assembly constituencies; Nobra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar. Only two candidates; Congress’ senior leader and minister Nawang Rigzin Jora and BJP’s Chering Dorjay are in the fray for Leh Assembly constituency. Both PDP and National Conference haven’t put forth any candidate in the constituency. National Conference hasn’t fielded any candidate from Zanskar constituency as well. Six candidates are in the fray for Nobra Assembly segment and four each for Kargil and Zanskar constituency.

Several bigwigs are fighting the battle of ballots from the three districts; Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban in Jammu region in the first phase. All the three districts have two constituencies each. The polls would be held in six Assembly segments spread over the three districts. These include Kishtwar and Inderwal in Kishtwar district; Doda and Bhaderwah in Doda district and Ramban (SC) and Banihal in Ramban district.

A total of 22 candidates are contesting from Kishtwar district, with 10 contesting for Kishtwar Assembly constituency and 12 for Inderwal Assembly segment. 14 candidates have joined the fray in Ramban district, including eight for Ramban (Reserve) and six for Banihal Assembly segments. 24 candidates are contesting from Doda district including 11 for Doda Assembly segment and 13 for Bhaderwah.

Congress and National Conference have high stakes in the Chenab Valley as the area is considered to be their stronghold. In the last Assembly elections, PDP and BJP failed to make any mark in the area.

Political parties are trying various ways and means to woo the voters. In this bid, Congress roped in its senior leader and veteran actor Raj Babbar to address a rally in Bandipora, November 18. Amidst huge applause from the people, the maestro Bollywood actor appealed to people to vote for the party and give a befitting reply to communal parties who wanted to disrupt the state’s secular fabric. Even Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed public rallies in support of party candidates in Bandipora (Kashmir) and Ramban (Jammu) districts, November 21. A day later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too addressed a public rally in Kishtwar (Jammu) in support of his party candidates contesting the elections in the first phase of State Assembly elections.

Hurriyat (G) led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called for a day-long shutdown in district Bandipora and Ganderbal on poll day. According to the Hurriyat leader, Kashmir is a “disputed territory and India has no constitutional, moral or legitimate right” to conduct elections in the state.

Meanwhile, All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee accused the state government of discrimination against its community and declared that they will cast votes in favour of PDP, November 15.