SRI NAGAR: The People’s Democratic Party chief and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is facing an uphill task in her home turf to retain Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in south Kashmir. Once considered one of its bastions in the Valley, the seat has now emerged as a stronghold of militants.
Eight candidates, including Mehbooba Mufti, state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir, Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi of National Conference, Sofi Yousuf of BJP, Chaudhry Zaffar Ali of PC, physiotherapist Rizwana Sanam and UP-based Supreme Court lawyer Shams Khwaja are in the fray for the Anantnag seat, where polling will be held in three phases because of security concerns.
Anantnag constituency is spread over four districts — Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama — and comprises 16 Assembly segments.
Since militancy is rife in the area, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has reduced polling hours by two hours in the Anantnag constituency. Polling would now be held between 7 am and 4 pm, instead of 7 am to 6 pm.
South Kashmir had been a bastion and stronghold of PDP since its formation in the 1990s. However, the party is battling anti-incumbency in the entire south Kashmir for its three-year alliance with the BJP and the alleged mishandling of 2016 unrest by Mehbooba-led PDP-BJP coalition government.
After the unrest, during which 90 civilians were killed and thousands injured, most by pellets, the entire south Kashmir has emerged as a stronghold of militants, with the number of local militant recruits rising manifold.
Since July 2016, south Kashmir has been in the grip of a festering turmoil, with encounters, stone pelting, protests, strikes, raids, and arrests becoming the order of the day.
Braving peoples’ anger, Mehbooba has campaigned in some “safe pockets” of south Kashmir. However, her rallies largely failed to record a robust attendance and her convoy was even targeted by stone pelters.
Political analyst Aadil Ahmad said this election is very important for Mehbooba, as a win would boost her reputation and help her keep the party intact and prevent further desertions.
In a first, outsider enters fray in valley
In a first, a non-state subject is contesting parliamentary election in Jammu and Kashmir. A 57-year-old lawyer from Uttar Pradesh is up against PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and State Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir from prestigious Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in restive south Kashmir region of the state.
Shams Khwaja hailing from Gautam Budh Nagar, UP is among 18 candidates in fray for Anantnag, which would go to polls district-wise in three phases on April 23, 29 and May 6 due to security concerns Khwaja’s nomination as an Independent candidate was contested by rival candidates before the District Electoral Officer on the ground that his name was not in electoral rolls of the constituency.
However, he managed to convince his opponents and officials that in parliamentary elections any Indian citizen can contest from anywhere, including J&K. Khwaja said it was his desire to contest from one of the toughest Lok Sabha seats and he picked Anantnag.