Mehbooba battling for honour, PDP redemption on her home turf Anantnag-Rajouri

The PDP has been weakened considerably by desertions since the fall of its coalition government with the BJP in June 2018.
Mehbooba Mufti, Mian Altaf and Zafar Manhas.
Mehbooba Mufti, Mian Altaf and Zafar Manhas.Illustration: Mandar Pardikar

SRINAGAR: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti, 65, is facing the toughest of electoral battle in her political career spanning over three decades.

She is contesting from the newly carved out Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat, which goes to the polls on May 25. It’s a must-win duel for her to enhance her political stature and revive the fortunes of her party ahead of the Assembly polls due before September this year. The stakes are very high since she is contesting on her home turf, which once was a bastion of the Muftis and the PDP.

The PDP has been weakened considerably by desertions since the fall of its coalition government with the BJP in June 2018. Mehbooba’s popularity dived when her party forged an alliance with the BJP in 2014 after contesting as rivals. Her handling of the 2016 unrest in the Valley, too, drew widespread criticism.

Mehbooba is pitted against the National Conference’s (NC) Mian Altaf and Apni Party’s Zafar Manhas. She is campaigning extensively in both the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri as well as Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopian in south Kashmir.

While Mehbooba is fighting on her own, Altaf’s NC is supported by the Congress, and Manhas is banking on the tacit support of the BJP.

To shake off the taint of aligning with the BJP, Mehbooba took a hard line against the Centre’s decision to read down Article 370 of the Constitution. The dominant sentiment in the Valley is still in favour of restoring Article 370, which gave the erstwhile J&K state special status.

In the newly carved out Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, Mehbooba is banking on her traditional support base in Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopan districts while also reaching out to the Gujjars, Bakerwals and especially the Pahari community (which was recently granted Scheduled Tribe status) in Poonch and Rajouri.

Poonch and Rajouri were added to the erstwhile Anantnag parliamentary constituency after the delimitation exercise. Both Poonch and Rajouri districts have sizable populations of Gujjars, Bakerwals and Paharis. It has led to parties realigning their strategies. The NC’s Altaf is a prominent Gujjar leader in Poonch and Rajouri districts while Manhas is a Pahari leader.

NC vice president Omar Abdullah snubbing the PDF by ruling out any alliance with it could go in her favour if the PDP can channelise the slight to drum up support and fire up the cadre.

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