The entry of Omar in Beerwah is sure to give some leverage to struggling NC in Budgam district that witnessed massive shift during Lok Sabah elections. Safwat Zargar travelled through Beerwah, Khan Sahib and Chrar-e-Sharif segments to gauge the public mood
Colourful posters and buntings of different political parties hanging above the main intersection of Beerwah, adorn this sleepy and wintry town, in a festive look. Beerwah assembly constituency is witnessing massive poll activity after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, deserting his family bastion Ganderbal, decided to contest from here. Locals in the town say, with Omar’s decision, struggling NC has got some weight in the constituency.
The talk of the town is a triangular contest – National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and Congress – on December 9. However on the peripheries of the segment, affinities of locals shuttle between NC and PDP. In the previous elections, PDP’s doctor-turned-politician Shafi Ahmad Wani had outnumbered NC’s Abdul Majid Matoo by a margin of just 164 votes. But, PDP knows, instead of Matoo this election, it is Omar, and perhaps one of the reasons for its “massive” campaigning.
New to Beerwah, Omar, after filing his nomination papers on November 20, addressed a huge gathering in Beerwah town. He was quick to hit on his, off late, ending of controversial Tosamaidan lease to army and the creation of a sub division, two tehsils and three CD blocks in the constituency.
If development is Omar’s card, he has a chance to win, people say. At the same time, locals are also considering his “poor” track record as a chief minister.
“There has been no development in the area since last two decades. Even when we have water resources and a proposed power project in the area, we have no electricity,” says Abdul Rashid Beigh, a local shopkeeper. “Not even a single road has been built.”
Beigh isn’t totally wrong. Almost ten surveys have been done on Sokhnallah dam near Beerwah for a proposed power project. Nothing happened. Fifty-five Below Poverty Line (BPL) quarters were constructed in Magam and none in Beerwah, locals add.
During 2002 elections, Beerwah had sent its local candidate Mohammad Sarfaraz Khan of PDP to state assembly with a vote share of 66 per cent. However, residents of Beerwah say “he didn’t do much for his area.” After Sarfaraz’s death, his son Nazir Ahmad Khan, a youth leader for PDP in the area, distanced himself from the party and fought 2008 elections on the ticket of Jammu Kashmir Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN). He ranked third with 9958 votes. Only 1762 votes away from victory.
Among the many factors voters are weighing is the “access and proximity” of the candidate to the people. Current MLA Dr Shafi Ahmad Wani resides some 13 kilometres far from the main Beerwah town at Kanihama, Omar in Srinagar. Closest to the town is Khan.
“There is no doubt that Omar will attract votes for NC in Beerwah but at the same time a voter wants an easy access to an MLA,” says Shahid Rather, a student. “There are very less chances of that in case of Omar.”
The third main contender for Beerwah seat, Nazir Ahmad Khan of Congress, is capitalizing on his “closeness and friendly nature” towards people. Nazir enjoys “good” support of locals and youth of the area.
“Nazir will take around 10,000 votes from the constituency anyhow,” says Riyaz Ahmad, a Congress supporter. “But the challenge for him is to attract votes from the peripheries and strongholds of NC and PDP.”
Another resident, Sonaullah says the villagers had to collect money from their own pockets to repair the transformer and electricity lines few days ago. “When we approached Power Department, they didn’t pay any attention. This is where the role of a local legislator chips in,” he says.
In coming days, 92,996 voters will decide the fate of seven candidates in fray for 2014 polls in Beerwah. While the constituency has a mixed population of different religions and communities, party candidates disagree on the division of voters on sectarian lines. BJP, apparently eyeing on Sikh votes, has fielded Abdul Rashid Banday, a resident of Khag tehsil. Sajad Lone’s People Conference has given the mandate to Dawood Khan Lodhi, son of 2008 independent candidate Bilal Khan Lodhi.
One of the few constituencies from Kashmir valley dominated by less known parties, Khan Sahib in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, is geared up for a straightforward contest between four time MLA and former minister for Revenue Hakim Mohammad Yaseen and PDP’s advocate-turned-politician Saif Ud Din Bhat.
With an electorate of 86,018, seven candidates are in the contest; however, the response on ground divides the poll mood between Yaseen and Bhat.
The two were head-to-head in the 2008 contest as well but Hakim’s victory margin of votes was around 8400 votes. Known for his “wide” support base in the area, Yaseen is well known for outnumbering his opponents by high figures. In 2002 assembly polls, Yaseen defeated Abdul Gani Naseem of National Conference by a margin of 15,793 votes.
Naseem, who won the seat in 1996 on NC’s ticket, is since then struggling to attract votes. While as Naseem is Congress’s candidate this election, his 2008 stint as an independent candidate fetched him just 952 votes.
On development front, Khan Sahib looks ahead of the neighbouring assembly segments of the district. Locals say Khan Sahib has 98 per cent road connectivity, bridges, hospitals and primary health centres, just because of Yaseen.
“Khan Sahib is synonymous with Hakim Yaseen. There is no opponent who could attract his votes,” says Showkat Ali, a local resident.
In the recently held Lok Sabha polls, Khan Sahib voted overwhelmingly in favour of PDP. But Yaseen asserts “it was because his party didn’t contest parliamentary elections.” According to Yaseen, none of his supporters voted in that elections and for that reason the polling figure didn’t touch 26,000 votes, only 30 per cent of the total electorate. Figures of the last two assembly elections show approximately 50 and 75 per cent electors had cast ballot respectively.
Since last one and a half decade, NC has been replaced by PDP as Yaseen’s close contender. Replacing its former candidate Tariq Mohi Ud Din, National Conference has fielded a contractor-turned-politician Manzoor Ahmad Wani from the area, while as PDP sticks to Saif-ud-Din Bhat. Locals say though Wani is a “big contractor” he is new to politics.
“It’s a colossal task for even well-doing PDP to dislodge Yaseen. NC has no chance. The NC candidate has to arrange supporters for his campaigning from Budgam and Beerwah,” says Nisar Khan, a sumo driver.
A lawyer by profession, Bhat is trying to gather votes on the basis of “Mufti wave.” Against Hakim Yaseen’s figure of 22,616 votes in 2008, Bhat ranked second with 14,221 votes.
According to Bhat, despite losing in 2008 elections, he has worked continuously for six years for the “welfare” of people. Bhat, while acknowledging his contest with PDF’s Yaseen, says his work will yield him votes on December 9.
“The development in Khan Sahib is all farce,” he says. As per Bhat, current MLA Yaseen has been “selective” in development and facilities. “He has given all the departments and infrastructural facilities to his own areas while as other areas have to suffer,” Bhat claims.
During his “rigorous” campaigning for the party, Bhat, who is also the district president Budgam for PDP, usually highlights issues like “selective development, lack of planning and step-motherly treatment to other villages.”
“The constituency has 170 villages but one or two developed villages don’t mean the whole constituency is developed,” Bhat says.
Interestingly, part of the political alliance, Awami Muttahida Mahaz of which Hakim Mohammad Yaseen’s PDF is a member and which was approached by BJP to seek support in Kashmir valley, neither Sajad Gani Lone led People’s Conference nor Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded any candidate in Khan Sahib.
On Yaseen’s agenda is; the safe guarding of Article 370, due share of Kashmir in Indus water treaty and resolving of Kashmir dispute through talks. “Whichever party agrees with our terms, we will go with them,” Yaseen says.
Among many of the surprises thrown up by the results of 2014 Lok Sabha polls was the defeat of NC in Chrar-e-Sharif assembly segment of the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary seat. The anti-incumbency wave had hit on the home constituency of finance minister and six-time undefeated MLA Abdul Rahim Rather.
Perhaps, it’s this anti-NC wave of parliamentary elections that has boosted the morale of PDP and Congress in the region. PDP has fielded advocate-turned-politician Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura against Rather, while as Congress’s Zahid Hussain Jan is due to magnet some votes from the Chrar town.
In the last two elections, it has been mainly an NC/PDP battle. However, the locals on the ground feel that PDP was never such close to clinching Chrar-e-Sharif like it is now. Approximately 69 per cent polling was witnessed in Lok Sabha polls in Chrar, however, against the legacy, most of the electors had voted for PDP.
Ghulam Mohideen Bhat, a local and a staunch NC supporter, feels Rather’s “indifferent and anti-local people attitude” had “disillusioned” his supporters. “We gave him a shock to wake up,” he says, while referring to Lok Sabha results.
“Whatever development has took place in Chrar town it is due to efforts of Zahid Hussain Jan of Congress during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s chief ministership,” says Mohammad Sideeq, a local of town. “I am voting for Congress.”
For 2014 polls, 78,348 electors are eligible to vote. But the ground mood suggests a “tough contest” between plough, and pen and inkpot.
Facing charges of corruption during his tenure as finance minister, Rather also seems to have felt the heat after Lok Sabha results. According to locals, Rather’s son, Hilal Rather is “continuously working in the constituency and distributing relief and other facilities among the locals.” But, will the “damage control” exercise yield votes for Rather?
“There is a 50/50 chance for NC and PDP. What PDP has gained from Rather’s failures is the balance in a one-sided contest,” says Mohammad Yunis, a private employee from the constituency.
After feeling a breather from the Lok Sabha results, PDP candidate Ghulam Nabi Lone from Hanjoora roams the constituency day and night and compiles the details of “mismanagement and lack of development in the area.”
Since last few months, Lone has got some advantages; some 2500 workers of NC joined PDP. From Rather’s home village Baadipora, around 47 locals joined hands with Lone.
Ghulam Mohideen Lone, father of PDP candidate Ghulam Nabi Lone, says “in Rather’s tenure, the area has witnessed no development. Only the Gujjar belt in Chrar-e-Sharif has witnessed some development because they vote for Rather.”
“The voting pattern on December 9 will surely reflect not only upon Rather’s work in the constituency but also on being a face of Omar’s failed government,” says Ghulam Mohideen Lone, who has also been a member of legislative council.
In Chrar town, the Gujjar/Kashmiri divide is visible. Asadullah Shah, a resident of town, claims that though the area is well connected with Budgam town, the main Chrari-e-Sharif has no connecting roads to other periphery areas.
Congress’s Zahid Hussain Jan, who lives in the main town, says most of the development that took place in the area was during the PDP-Congress coalition. He attributes the creation of Yusmarg development authority to former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
“People support me because even without being an MLA, I worked hard to solve their problems at the party level,” says Zahid, who after getting Congress mandate in 2002 was replaced with Mohammad Maqbool Malla in 2008.
Unlike Khan Sahib, both BJP and PC have fielded candidates in Chrar where electors will be deciding the fate of nine candidates in the contest.