In Kashmir, Key to Victory Lies in Northern Valley And it’s Evident in Poll Strategies of BJP, NC and PDP
The PDP, BJP and Congress-NC alliance are firming up their campaign strategies to win a majority of the six Lok Sabha seats in Jammu and Kashmir.
File photo of Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Deputy CM Nirmal Singh. (PTI)
Uri, Baramulla: Kashmir is going for the elections for the first time after the violence-marred polls of 2017 in Srinagar, which witnessed 7% voting. Eight civilians were killed that day in the protests and clashes. After that, elections for the Anantnag seat in south Kashmir were postponed and later cancelled.
Even in the Panchayat polls held in November last year, Kashmir mostly remained indifferent to the poll boycott of two major regional political parties, National Conference (NC) and People's Democratic Party (PDP). The biggest challenge in Kashmir, following the killing of the militant commander in the summer of 2016, has been conducting elections.
On Thursday, the Baramulla seat in the north Kashmir is going for polls and the mood on ground is festive.
From Srinagar to Baramulla, roads and allies are decorated with colourful party buntings and local markets are lit with poll banners. In the past week, over a dozen major rallies were held, in which thousands of people participated by chanting slogans and dancing—depicting a typical election battlefield.
Consisting of three major districts of Kashmir—Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora—there are 15 assembly segments in the north Kashmir Lok Sabha seat.
Won by PDP in the 2014 elections, getting over 37% of total vote share, the Baramulla seat this time will have an interesting neck-to-neck fight, given the strong contenders in the field.
Given the rallies and political movements, it is apparent that voter turnout will be good. There are 14 candidates in the poll fray and four of them are strong contenders.
The National Conference has fielded Akbar Lone, an outspoken senior politician who has been a minister in the past and was also the speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly. Infamous for using abusive language during his term as the speaker of the assembly, Lone has strong personal and party base in the north. He seems stronger in his native district of Bandipora and has been in the politics since over 50 years.
Lone’s campaigning has been surrounding the protection of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which he says is under threat from the “communal forces”. All over, he has been campaigning against the BJP and terming his opponent party—Sajad Gani Lone-led People’s Conference (PC) —as an ally of the BJP.
“The identity of Kashmir is in danger. We have to defeat the BJP. They have a malicious agenda,” Lone told News18. Hinting at Pakistan in his rallies, he has been telling people that if Article 370 is tinkered with, the accession with India will cease and other options will be explored.
Retired as the inspector general of J&K Police, Raja Aijaz Ali is the candidate of People’s Conference. The party’s chief Sajad Lone, a separatist-turned-mainstream politician, whose brother is still part of the secessionist camp, has seen overwhelming support. North Kashmir has been the base of the PC, which was launched by Sajad’s father, Abdul Gani Lone—a well-respected leader in north Kashmir who was allegedly killed by militants.
Sajad and his party have been extensively campaigning against the National Conference, and the “family Raj” parties. Being part of Mehbooba Mufti-led last collation government and an ally of the BJP, Sajad, who once called Prime Minister Narendra Modi his elder brother, is now trying hard to get away from the BJP tag.
The PC campaign is centered on creating a strong party from north Kashmir and working for the development. But besides that, the PC has been vociferously speaking against the attempts to tamper with the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. What makes the party strong is its traditional support base in the north, and the joining of the Imran Ansari, who was earlier a PDP leader and is influential in the Shia community.
Raja Aijaz himself was in the PDP before joining the People’s Conference, and while contesting last assembly elections from Uri, he was the runner-up.
The parliamentary elections will be a test for Sajad who is trying to create an alternate mainstream political force in Kashmir. “We have no historical baggage. Both the NC and PDP have blood on their hands. We want to work for development and peace,” Aijaz told News18.
The PDP, which won the seat last time, has fielded Abdul Qayoom Wani—a teacher who was heading an employees’ union before joining the party recently. Qayoom, who was jailed by the PDP-BJP government during 2016, has been an open critic of the PDP and its head Mehbooba Mufti in the past.
With the exit of some main leaders from the PDP, particularly in the north Kashmir, the party doesn’t seem firm on ground compared to the last elections.
The PDP is also making the same point in its election rallies —protection of Article 370. But besides that, the party has been talking about its previous tenure.
“We have been in alliance with the BJP and were successful in stopping them from implementing their communal agenda,” said Qayoom Wani at a rally in Tangmarg. This will be Wani’s first ever elections and the PDP’s first polls after the BJP pulled out of the government.
More than winning the Lok Sabha seat, the PDP seems working on the lost turf.
Two-time independent MLA from the Langate constituency, firebrand legislator Engineer Rasheed is appearing to be a dark horse.
Rasheed, who has remained the most active legislator, is attracting huge crowds in the north Kashmir. He has been an advocate of the plebiscite for the Kashmir problem and is campaigning for the same this time.
“I have been an MLA and my demand on the floor of J&K Assembly has been the plebiscite for the Jammu and Kashmir. Now, if you elect me, I will raise the same demand in the Parliament of India,” Rasheed said in a rally in Bandipora.
Hailing from north Kashmir’s Lanate area, Rasheed has also got the support of IAS-turned-politician Shah Faesal, who has decided that his newly-launched party will not be contesting parliamentary polls but will fight assembly elections.
Rasheed has been criticising everyone, NC, PDP and PC. Rasheed’s novel slogans and promises are gaining him quite a support.
Earlier, Rasheed was seen as a proxy candidate in the political circles. But with his campaign rallies, underestimating him now will be a big mistake for the traditional parties.
What Are People Saying?
The line of Control (LoC) is passing from two of the three districts in the north Kashmir and the people living near the de-facto border want relief from the skirmishes on the border.
“I have been voting for the last 40 years but no one has been able to bring peace here,” said Anwar Hussain, a resident of Gawalta village, which is situated near LoC in Uri.
“First we were hit by the war, then came the militancy and now there is cross-LoC shelling. Our people get killed, our houses are hit, and cattle die. I will vote for that candidate who can solve this problem,” says Hussain.
The border residents are the main chunk of voters and their key demand, apart from peace on the LoC, remains the constriction of concrete bunkers.
“The governments in the past have failed to construct concrete bunkers for us. Time and again we have been promised this, even in during these elections the bunkers remain the main problem,” said Mohammad Khalil, another resident.
Recently, the Pahari community in the state was given around 3% reservation in the government jobs in the state. However, not everyone is happy with it in the north Kashmir, which has a considerable number of Pahari population.
People who are living in the far-flung areas but do not speak Pahari language also want to be benefited from the reservation.
“We people live in mountains and face the same problems, but the only issue with us is about the language. We should be also considered Pahari and be included in the reservation,” said Haneef Ahmad, a resident of Boniyar area of Baramulla.
The mountainous areas lack proper roads and healthcare and the people want these issues to also get addressed.
Most people believe that their representative should be one who can raise these issues strongly in the Parliament. “I think we should elect a candidate who can talk about us in the Parliament,” said Raseed Bhat from Kupwara.
“The people we elect don’t even make a single speech in the parliament and never visit the constituency,” said Rasheed.
With 13,12,148 voters spread over 1,749 polling stations, Baramulla goes to polls on Thursday in the first phase of the five-phase Lok Sabha elections in the state.
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