The campaigning for the by-polls to two Lok Sabha constituencies in Kashmir has been a low key affair so far but the election is a high-stakes battle for the candidates of both the ruling PDP and the opposition combine of the NC and the Congress. The by-polls in Srinagar and Anantnag Parliamentary constituencies are going to be held on April 9 and 12 respectively and in total 15 candidates are in the fray. While nine candidates, including ruling PDP’s Nazir Khan and opposition NC’s president Farooq Abdullah are in the fray from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s brother Mufti Tasaduq Hussain and Congress state unit president G A Mir are contesting from the Anantnag seat.
The NC and the Congress have entered into a seat-sharing arrangement for the by-polls to put up a united fight against the PDP-BJP coalition government. All these four main candidates have a lot at stakes in the by-polls which are seen as an acid test for both the ruling as well as the opposition parties. While it may be the last electoral battle for Abdullah, the former Union Minister presumably because of his age and health, the by-polls will be Mufti scion’s maiden entry into electoral politics.
The cinematographer-turned-politician joined the PDP on the first death anniversary of his father and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on January 6 this year. Abdullah lost the last election from the constituency to former PDP leader Tariq Hameed Karra by a margin of 40,000 votes. Karra, however, resigned from the Parliament last year citing atrocities on the protesters in Kashmir during the last year’s unrest. He has since joined the Congress and is now garnering support for the joint candidate the NC president.
The NC leader went into a sort of political oblivion for a brief period of time following his first electoral defeat ever and did not even campaign in the 2014 assembly elections which witnessed his party’s worst ever electoral performance as it bagged only 15 seats. However, he was soon back into business after undergoing a successful kidney transplant in London and has since taken on the task of restructuring the grand-old party.
The Srinagar Parliamentary constituency, which consists of 15 assembly constituencies spanning over three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal, until the 2014 elections was seen as a bastion of the NC as the party enjoyed a majority of its support in the Valley from these areas.
However, after the party lost the Parliamentary constituency in 2014 General Elections, its support was on the wane in these areas as was evident from the results of the Assembly elections later that year. While NC retained both seats in Ganderbal, it won only two seats in Budgam district out of the total five.
In Srinagar, the party lost five seats in traditional NC stronghold of Srinagar and could retain only three. Since then the party has been trying hard to make a comeback and the by-polls present a huge opportunity to it. It is for this reason that the party fielded its star candidate (Abdullah) even as the remaining term for the 16th Lok Sabha is just under two years. Banking on Shia votes, especially in Budgam, the NC has, days before the by-polls, nominated Shia leader Aga Syed Mehmood for the Legislative Council from Kashmir province.
Mehmood is expected to win his election, later in April, comfortably but the party will be expecting same support to Farooq that the shia leader had extended to NC working president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah during Assembly elections in 2014 in Beerwah Assembly segment. The nomination of the Shia leader from the influential Aga family may consolidate the community’s support in NC’s favour and help Abdullah win, which will surely prolong his political career.
Khan, son of former PDP leader and minister Sarfaraz Khan, had first fought the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 as an independent candidate after he was refused the mandate by the PDP. In 2008, his father also quit the party and Khan contested from Beerwah Assembly segment as a candidate of Democratic Party (Nationalist). He, however, lost to the PDP candidate.
Afterwards, Khan joined the Congress party and fought the 2014 assembly elections against NC’s Omar from Beerwah. He gave a tough fight to the NC leader and lost by a narrow margin of around 900 votes. However, Khan returned to the PDP in February this year and is trying his luck in the by-polls as the ruling party’s candidate.
Like Srinagar, Anantnag Parliamentary constituency also offers an interesting competition between a senior politician as well as a former minister (Mir) and a political novice.Mir lost the last assembly elections from Dooru constituency in Anantnag from where he had won in 2008 even after being accused in a sex scandal from which he was acquitted by the court. Mir worked his way up the Congress state unit ladder and is currently its state chief.
After the seat-sharing arrangement with the NC, Mir was announced as the joint candidate of the opposition to take on the ruling party’s nominee Mufti. Mir also has a lot at stake in the by-poll as he enjoys good support in south Kashmir where he worked very hard after he became the Pradesh Congress Committee president. His win would cement his place in the party and further his political ambitions. An ace cinematographer known for his works in Bollywood movies like ‘Omkara’ and ‘Kaminey’, Mufti is fighting his maiden political battle from his party’s as well as his family’s stronghold south Kashmir. While his sister Mehbooba had won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the constituency by over 65,000 votes, it may not be a cakewalk for the Mufti scion.
The party has suffered a serious image dent in south Kashmir particularly after the last year’s unrest which saw massive protests in south Kashmir after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces in Kokernag area of Anantnag district. While Mufti’s win would consolidate his position within the party his father and sister built, his loss would be a huge setback not only for the party but for Mehbooba as well. So, while the electioneering has been low key, the high profile electoral battle has evinced a lot of interest especially as the stakes are so high.