SRINAGAR: The fate of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and three of his cabinet colleagues will be decided in the third phase of polling, which also holds the key to power for the opposition PDP that won nine of the 16 seats last time.
The sixteen Assembly constituencies spread over three districts -- Budgam, Pulwama and Baramulla -- will go to polls on Tuesday when 13.69 lakh electors, including 6.51 lakh women, will decide the fate of 144 candidates among whom are the Chief Minister, three of his cabinet colleagues and 10 other sitting MLAs.
Omar, who chose to contest from Beerwah in Budgam instead of his family bastion of Ganderbal, hopes that some of the recent steps taken by his government for the area will help him sail through the electoral tide from a constituency which was won by PDP candidates in the last two elections.
Among many decisions, the Omar government did not extend the lease to the Army for using Tosamaidan meadows, falling in the Beerwah constituency, as a firing practice range following widespread opposition from the locals. He also ensured that the Army cleared the area of the littered shells, which had claimed more than 60 lives in the past two decades.
Omar has extensively campaigned in the area and will be banking on support from his National Conference party seniors and prominent Shia leaders Aga Roohullah and Aga Syed Mehmood, who have significant influence in pockets of this seat.
NC working president Omar, who is also contesting from the Sonawar Assembly seat, was given a rousing welcome when he filed his nomination papers from this constituency last month.
Omar, who is seeking a second term in the Assembly, faces a stiff challenge from sitting PDP MLA Mohammad Shafi Wani and Congress nominee Nazir Ahmad Khan, whose father Sarfaraz Khan had won from Beerwah in 2002 elections as a PDP candidate.
More than Omar, the third phase polling is important for the opposition PDP which hopes to return to power this time. PDP represents nine of the 16 seats while the ruling NC holds only four.
Congress and Peoples Democratic Front won one seat each in the last polls while one seat went to Independent.
While PDP has re-nominated six sitting MLAs including Wani, it has fielded fresh faces in three other seats won by it in the 2008 Assembly elections.
PDP leader Imran Ansari has been shifted from Zadibal constituency in Srinagar to his family bastion of Pattan in Baramulla following the death of his father and sitting MLA Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari.
In Rajpora constituency of Pulwama, PDP has nominated former banker Haseeb Drabu, denying mandate to its sitting MLA Syed Bashiruddin who is contesting as Independent. The party has fielded Javed Ahmad Beigh from Baramulla seat following election of sitting MLA Muzaffar Hussain Beigh to the Lok Sabha earlier this year.
The other constituency that will be keenly watched is Chrar-e-Sharief where Finance Minister and NC leader Abdul Rahim Rather is seeking a seventh consecutive term.
Rather, who holds the state record for the highest number of consecutive wins from one constituency, however, is facing his toughest challenge this time around as NC's Lok Sabha poll nominee was trailing PDP candidate from this constituency for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, who was at the centre of a controversy sparked by former Army chief V K Singh's claim that some Jammu and Kashmir politicians were on pay rolls of the Army, will be seeking a fourth term from Gulmarg Assembly constituency.
Similarly, senior Congress leader and Health Minister Taj Mohiuddin will be seeking a third consecutive term from Uri.
The Khansahib constituency in Budgam will see Hakim Mohammad Yasin of Peoples Democratic Front seeking a third consecutive term by wading off challenge from separatist- turned-PDP candidate Saiduddin Bhat.
Other sitting MLAs who are seeking re-election include NC leaders Mohammad Ashraf Ganaie (Sopore), Aga Roohullah (Budgam), Javed Ahmad Dar (Rafiabad), and PDP leaders Basharat Bukhari (Sangrama), Javed Mustafa Mir (Chadoora), Mushtaq Ahmad Shah (Tral), Zahoor Ahmad Mir (Pampore) and Mohammad Khalil Bandh (Pulwama).
The third of the five-phase elections in Jammu and Kashmir will be held in the backdrop of the four terror incidents across the Valley on December 5 in which 21 persons including 11 security personnel were killed.
Earlier two phases of polling -- on November 25 and December 2 -- passed off peacefully with over 70 per cent turnout.