Srinagar/Ranchi: Amidst security alert about possible Maoist attacks on politicians in Jharkhand and militant groups' poll boycott call in Jammu and Kashmir, the stage was set for the first of staggered assembly elections in the two states on Tuesday. The first phase will cover 15 seats in Jammu and Kashmir, where 12 sitting MLAs, including seven ministers, are among 123 candidates are trying their luck, and 13 Maoists-affected constituencies in Jharkhand.
While in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah-led National Conference (NC) is fighting against main opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), BJP and Congress in a multi-cornered contest, ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) headed by Chief Minister Hemant Soren will be seeking to retain power in the face of a challenge by BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP's star campaigner, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi and Omar spearheaded the campaign in the run up to the first phase of polling. While Modi asked voters to opt for a change of guard in both the states by seeking an end to dynastic rule, the Gandhis had accused BJP of a divisive agenda and making false promises of inclusive development.
Security agencies in Jharkhand were put on alert following intelligence inputs suggesting that Naxals were planning to attacks leaders of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM). Intelligence agencies also intercepted conversations of leaders of Pakistan-based militant groups Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad with local commanders in Jammu and Kashmir asking them to ensure boycott of coming assembly elections.
The separatist groups like all factions of Hurriyat Conference and JKLF have called for a boycott of the polls tomorrow and called for a general strike as well. While six constituencies in Jammu division will vote to elect their representatives, the electorate in five segments in Kashmir and four in Ladakh will seal the fate of the aspirants in the polling that is scheduled to begin at 8 AM.
The assembly segments going to polls on Tuesday include Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban and Banihal (in Jammu division); Gurez, Bandipora, Sonawari, Kangan and Ganderbal (in Kashmir), Nobra, Leh, Kargil and Zanskar (in Ladakh).
A total of 10,502,50 voters, including 5,49,698 males and 5,00,539 females, besides 13 transgenders are eligible to exercise their right to franchise in the first phase of the polls in J & K.
Bhaderwah has the largest number of 1,04,354 voters among the 15 constituencies, while Nobra constituency in Ladakh region has the lowest with 13,054 voters. Seven ministers are seeking re-election in the first phase - Nazir Ahmad Khan Gurezi (from Gurez), Mohammad Akbar Lone (Sonawari), Mian Altaf (Kangan), Sajad Kichloo (Kishtwar), Abdul Majid Wani (Doda), Nawang Rigzin Joa (Leh) and Vikar Rasool Wani (Banihal).
Besides the ministers who are all sitting MLAs, five legislators will be seeking a re-election in the first phase of polls. They are PDP's Nizamudding Bhat (Bandipora), Congress candidates Ghulam Mohammad Saroori (Inderwal), Sharief Niaz (Bhaderwah), Ashok Kumar (Ramban) and National Conference's Tsetan Namgyal (Nobra) are the sitting MLAs seeking another term.
In Jharkhand, adequate security forces have been deployed in all the 13 constituencies where 33,61,938 voters, with nearly half of them women, are eligible to exercise their franchise to elect their representatives from among 199 candidates in the fray.
BJP has fielded candidates in 12 of the 13 seats while allotting one to AJSU at Lohardaga as per the seat adjustment. RJD, which is contesting seven seats and is in alliance with Congress and JD(U), is engaged in a friendly contest with JD(U) in Chhatarpur and Hussainabad constituencies. Congress, which is contesting in seven of the 13 seats, is also locked in a friendly bout with RJD in Manika.