Jammu & Kashmir: Valley vortex

A litmus test for all parties as it is the first major polls after abrogation of Art 370 & bifurcation of erstwhile J&K.
Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad
Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad

SRINAGAR: For Jammu & Kashmir, 2024 will not be just another election year but a litmus test for all the parties as it is the first major polls after the abrogation of Articles 370 and bifurcation of erstwhile J&K state into two Union Territories.

According to the EC’s poll schedule, elections in the five LS seats in J&K will take place in five phases. While Udhampur goes to polls on April 19, voting in Jammu will be on April 26, newly carved Anantnag-Rajouri on May 7, Srinagar on May 13 and Baramulla on May 26. A total of 87,89,233 voters, including 44,86,261 males and 43,02,812 women, are eligible to exercise their franchise, of which about 3.4 lakh are first-timers. About 8,930 polling stations have been set up across the UT for smooth polling.

Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad
Mehbooba in direct contest against Azad, NC’s Gujjar face

With the campaigning picking up, especially in the Jammu region, the parties have announced their candidates for the five seats. A day after Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announced its candidates, the Congress and the National Conference (NC) on Monday sealed a seat sharing pact in J&K and Ladakh in which both parties will be fielding three candidates each.

Announcing the seat sharing agreement at a joint press conference in the capital, former J&K CM and NC vice president Omar Abdullah said the Congress would contest in Udhampur, Jammu and Ladakh seats while the NC would field candidates in Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla.

So far, the BJP has announced candidates for two Jammu seats – Udhampur and Jammu. It has retained both sitting MPs – Union MoS PMO Dr Jitendra Singh for the Udhampur seat and Jugal Kishore for the Jammu seat. Of the 19,25,450 votes of the Anantnag-Rajouri seat, around 11 lakh are in South Kashmir, while Rajouri and Poonch districts have over 8 lakh votes.

BJP is eyeing the Anantnag LS seat to make inroads into a Muslim-dominated valley. The high-stake seat will witness a multi-corner contest between PDP chief and former CM Mehbooba Mufti, Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) chief and former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad, and NC’s Gujjar leader Mian Altaf Ahmed. The BJP in all likelihood would field its J&K president Ravindra Raina in Rajouri. In Kashmir, the regional parties — NC, PDP and People’s Conference Party — would contest on Article 370 plank.

The main thrust of Congress, DPAP and the Apni Party will be to restore statehood. For the two Valley seats, it will be a triangular contest between NC, PDP’s youth president Wahid Para and Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari in Srinagar and NC versus Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Lone in Baramulla.

Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad
Congress, National Conference finalise seat sharing in J-K, Ladakh for LS polls

The NC is yet to name candidates for Srinagar and Baramulla seats. NC would be dropping all three sitting MPs and has given the mandate to Mian Altaf from Anantnag. NC’s Omar Abdullah may contest from the Srinagar seat, and the party may field a young leader from Baramulla.

The fate of three former CMs, Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, J&K Apni Party chief Altaf Bukhari, Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Lone and J&K BJP president Ravindra Raina, will be at stake. A political observer said the NC, PDP and Congress would focus their campaigning on the drawbacks of Article 370 abrogation and restoration of statehood. The NC and PDP have been calling for the restoration of Article 370, and two parties are part of the five-party Gupkar alliance on Article 370 restoration and INDIA bloc.

Of the five LS seats, the INDIA allies NC and PDP have not fielded candidates for two Jammu seats and Congress in turn will not field candidates for Valley seats. But for three Valley seats, NC and PDP will be engaged in a friendly battle.

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