SRINAGAR: The bypolls to two parliamentary seats in Valley is a litmus test for ruling PDP-BJP coalition government headed by Mehbooba Mufti and opposition National Conference-Congress combine.
The bypolls to Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat in Central Kashmir and Anantnag-Pulwama seat in South Kashmir will be held on April 9 and April 12 respectively.
The election is being held after over five months of unrest in Valley in second half of last year during which 92 civilians were killed and over 13000 injured in security forces action.
The ruling PDP has fielded Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s cinematographer brother Tassaduq Mufti from Anantnag seat and Nazir Ahmad Khan, who recently returned to the party after defecting from Congress, for the Srinagar seat.
The opposition National Conference (NC) and Congress have forged alliance for the two seats. NC president and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is contesting from Srinagar seat and State Congress chief G A Mir against Mehbooba’s brother from Anantnag seat.
Due to law and order situation in the Valley and increase in militant violence, the parties have kept their election campaign low key profile. They have confined the campaigning to addressing party workers and supporters at party offices and other “safe places” and refrained from holding public rallies or door to door campaigning.
The poll campaigning of parties has been further hit after killing of three civilians in security forces firing on protestors near an encounter site in Chadoora area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district on March 28.
Although poll campaigning has been a low key affair but much is stake for both the ruling and opposition alliances.
The contesting of polls by Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba’s brother Tassaduq Mufti and State Congress chief G A Mir proves that both sides are taking the polls seriously and are seeing the bypolls as a decisive battle against each other.
According to young political analyst Aadil Ahmad, the bypolls is litmus test for both PDP-BJP and NC-Congress alliances.
He said if PDP wins both the seats then it claim that people have supported its policies and agenda. “The party can claim that people have liked the style of governance of Mehbooba Mufti, who took over as first woman chief minister of the State on April 4 last year”.
However, Aadil said if the party loses one or both the seats, then it will indicate that the opposition parties have gained ground and popularity they lost in 2014 parliamentary and State Assembly polls.
The political commentators opine that owing to tension in the Valley and civilian casualties during last year’s unrest, it seems that there would be very low turnout in both the seats.
The separatists and militant groups have called for poll boycott and asked people to stay away from the electoral process.
In 2014 parliamentary elections, Anantnag saw a voter turnout of 28% and Srinagar 26%.
According to political commentators it would be tough for PDP to win both the seats in view of anger among people against the party for aligning with saffron party BJP and using excessive force on protestors during last year’s unrest.
“The PDP is facing a sticky wicket. The party’s stronghold in South Kashmir was epicenter of last year’s unrest and still continues to be in turmoil. Most of the pockets of influence of PDP in South Kashmir have been witnessing participation of people in anti-government protests and pro-militant protests,” they said.
With voter turnout expected to be on lower side, Aadil said it would not be safe to bet on any of the two coalitions.
“Both are facing peoples’ anger. Now it has to be seen whether the anger is more against PDP for aligning with BJP and mishandling the situation during last year’s unrest or against NC, the oldest party of the State, for doing nothing to stop BJP from aligning with PDP and preventing bloodshed in the Valley,” he said.
He, however, said anti-incumbency factor and boycott call may go in favour of opposition NC-Congress candidates.