A ‘Friendly Contest’

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by Sheikh Qayoom

Much before the Congress could announce the candidature of its state president, GA Mir for the south Kashmir Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, National Conference (NC) upstaged the move by announcing the candidate of Justice (retired) Husnain Masoodi for this seat.

The decision by the NC as it came a day before the Congress and the NC announced a pre-poll alliance, has secured the candidature of the NC candidate in Anantnag even though the Congress would engage in a ‘friendly contest’ with the NC in Anantnag, Baramulla and the Ladakh Lok Sabha seats.

Srinagar seat has clearly been secured by the alliance for Dr Farooq Abdullah as the Congress would not field anybody against the NC president from Srinagar constituency.

In return, the NC would not field candidates against the Congress in Jammu and Udhampur where the main contest would be between the BJP and the Congress while fireworks on the side could be provided by the BJP rebel, Choudhary Lal Singh.

How much ice would Choudhary Lal Singh cut in the Udhampur constituency is to be watched – but one thing goes without saying: whatever little or much this BJP rebel polls in Udhampur constituency would be directly subtracted from the BJP vote bank.

Despite Lal Singh chipping into the BJP vote bank, the absence of the former chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, from the contest personally could cost the Congress heavily in this constituency.

Azad who belongs to Bhaderwah (Doda) has a strong political base in the Chenab Valley region as also among the Muslims and Hindus living in other areas of Udhampur constituency.

It is generally believed that NC leaving the seat for the Congress would help the party greatly only if Azad contests personally from this constituency. In Azad’s absence from the electoral fray, BJPs Dr Jitendra Singh could safely retain this seat.

In Jammu constituency, despite the Congress improving its lot during the last three years, pollsters believe it is still far away from wresting the seat from the powerful jaws of the BJP that held most of the voting segments of this constituency in the last state assembly.

In Ladakh, the friendly contest could become a self-goal for the Congress and the NC.

The BJP has strong support among the Buddhist community of Ladakh division and after the granting of the divisional status to the region, this support base has improved further despite the fact that the Congress is also banking on its Buddhist support in the constituency.

The real problem for the Congress and the NC could be the likely decision by Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust and the Islamia School, two powerful religious organizations of Kargil, to field a united candidate without the support of either the Congress or the NC.

Whatever support the Congress or the NC would expect from the Muslim community of Ladakh division would not be there after the two powerful religious organizations of Kargil decide on a united candidate.

The ‘friendly contest’ would, in fact, become a problem for both the Congress and the NC as the two parties could mutually share votes thereby giving a clear edge to either the BJP or the united candidate of Kargil Islamic organization.

In Anantnag constituency, the problem for the NC-Congress alliance is of a different nature. With Mir most likely not to contest from this Lok Sabha seat, the Congress would field a ‘weaker candidate’ to improve the winning chances of the NC candidate.

The PDP is likely to field either its president, Mehbooba Mufti or senior PDP leader, Abdul Rehman Veeri.

After Mehbooba Mufti vacated the seat in 2016 to become the Chief Minister following the death of her father, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, by-poll for the Anantnag seat could not be held because of the extremely difficult law and order situation in the south Kashmir districts.

This constituency will go to vote in three phases and it needs no rocket science to foretell that the voting percentages would be very low in this constituency, perhaps the lowest we would have anywhere in the six Lok Sabha seats of the state.

The winner and the loser could be separated by a very little margin of votes in Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. Wouldn’t the NC and the Congress have shot each other in the foot if the two together poll more than their rival, but finish individually lower than the opponent?

Sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. What is true of Anantnag could also be true for the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency.

Sajad Lone’s PC has strong voter support in Kupwara district and elsewhere in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency. Shah Faesal’s JKPM also appears to have sizable support among the youth in Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora.

The support base of NC candidate, Muhammad Akbar Lone, would definitely not be consolidated by the presence of a Congress candidate in the electoral fray, however, weak the Congress candidate might be.

The ‘friendly contest’ between the NC and the Congress is, therefore, going to make the upcoming Lok Sabha elections interesting to watch. Sometimes, even during the friendliest matches between two teams, one or the other player suffers bruises.

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