SRINAGAR: The fourth of the five phase polling for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly will be held today, amid tight security measures. Over 14.70 lakh voters will seal the fate of 182 candidates, including Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Opposition PDP president Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, three sitting ministers and the Speaker.
If there is any seat in the Valley where the BJP has got a realistic chance to win, it is Habba Kadal constituency in downtown Srinagar, which, along with 17 other seats, will go to polls in the fourth phase of the Assembly elections on Sunday. The party is banking on boycott call of separatists and migrant Pandit vote bank of the constituency to win the seat and open its account in the Valley.
The constituency, which falls in the stronghold of the separatists, has a good chunk of Pandit population. After the eruption of the militancy, the Pandits from Habba Kadal and other parts of the Valley migrated en masse, and lived in Jammu and other parts of the country.
The migrant Pandits still prove to be a deciding factor in the seat, as the constituency, where from three Pandit candidates, including BJP’s Moti Lal Koul, are contesting, has 16,271 migrant Pandit voters, out of total eligible voters of 54,852.
Of all the eight Assembly segments in Srinagar, Habba Kadal constituency has been witnessing low turnout. In the 2008 Assembly polls, it witnessed only 11.62 per cent polling and out of registered 49,667 votes, only 5,770 votes were polled. The NC’s Shameema Firdous had won the elections by securing 2,374 votes. In the 2002 Assembly polls, independent candidate Raman Mattoo won by securing 587 votes.
Shameema’s win was the only win of a Muslim candidate from the seat in the last four Assembly elections (from 1987). In the previous elections, the Pandit candidates had emerged victorious, due to the Pandit votebank factor.
In the 1987 polls (before the eruption of the militancy), the NC’s Pyare Lal Handoo had won elections from the seat by securing 17,240 votes. Handoo again won the elections from the seat in 1996 (first election after the eruption of militancy), by securing 5,984 votes. In the 2002 polls, Matoo, an independent candidate, had won the elections from the seat, by securing 587 votes.
Keeping in view the trend of past elections, the three Pandit candidates – the BJP’s Koul, the LJP’s Sanjay Saraf and the Congress’ Mattoo – are all banking on over 16,000 migrant Pandit voters, while the PDP’s Zafar Meraj (journalist) and the NC’s sitting MLA Firdous are relying on local support.
A police officer said adequate security measures had been taken to ensure smooth and peaceful conduct of the polls. “Over 400 companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed for poll duties in three districts in the Valley. The police and CRPF men have been deployed in and around the polling booths. Besides, the polling staff have been dispatched to their respective polling stations,” he said.
He said the security measures outside polling stations had also been intensified.
“The police and the CRPF men have set up temporary check-posts outside the booths, to ensure smooth conduct of polls. We have also deployed security men in strength in all sensitive and stone-pelting prone areas, which will be going to polls,” the police officer said, adding nobody would be allowed to disturb polling.