A high profile contest

After low voter turnout in South Kashmir all eyes are on high profile contest in Centre. Will Farooq Abdullah recreate his magic and retain Srinagar for NC? Shah Abbas analyzes the mood

“So long as I am alive, I will stand from Srinagar and you will vote for me,” ruling National Conference (NC) President Dr Farooq Abdullah told his supporters at his father’s mausoleum located on the banks of the Dal Lake near the Hazratbal shrine, when he announced his candidature for Srinagar seat on the birth anniversary of his father on December 5 last year.

Farooq-and-omar
Dr Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah addressing their supporters in Ganderbal.                 Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Of late Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed urging the people of Srinagar to vote for his party said, “The people of Srinagar have to lead from front for change.” He added, “For any change in the system and governance to be credible it is essential that the politically conscience people of Srinagar lead from the front.”

In a bilateral contest, the people of Srinagar who are known for their unconcerned attitude towards the elections since last 25 years have to choose between NC and PDP.

“In a situation where both NC and PDP have very little to mention what they have done for Srinagarites, they are confined to each others’ bashing,” a trader who heads the shopkeepers association in Lal Chowk area told Kashmir Life.

The Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency comprised of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam districts is scheduled to go for polling on April 30 to choose between NCs Dr Farooq Abdullah and PDPs Tariq Hamid Karra. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Rashid Rahil of Awami Ittihad Party (AIP) are also among the 14 candidates contesting from the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, but the real contest is totally bilateral.

Lok Sabha constituency of Srinagar has 15 assembly segments, 8 in Srinagar, 5 in Budgam and 2 in Ganderbal district. 12 assembly segments are represented by NC in the state assembly which gives it an apparent edge. In Budgam district, opposition PDP legislators represent two seats, Chadoora and Beerwah, while the Khan Sahib seat is represented by Hakim Muhammad Yasin. But still it is not easy to judge between PDP and NC who will get major part of 1106729 electors when people will cast their votes at 1483 polling stations on April 30.

The assembly segments in Srinagar Lok sabha seat are Hazratbal, Zadibal, Eidgah, Khanyar, Amira Kadal, Sonawar, Batmaloo and Habba Kadal in Srinagar district, Ganderbal and Kangan in Ganderbal district and Chadoora, Budgam, Beerwah, Khan Sahib and Charar-e-Sharief in Budgam district.

In 2009 Lok Sabha election, Dr Farooq Abdullah defeated his PDP rival Molvi Ifkikhaar Hussain Ansari with a modest margin of 30242 votes. Farooq had polled 147035 and Ansari 116793 votes. Only 282,761 voters used their right to franchise in 2009 Lok Sabha election from Srinagar constituency. Farooq secured 52 while as Ansari of PDP secured 41.30 percent of votes.

NC has another edge as compared to PDP that almost all its top leadership belong to the same Lok Sabha seat. They include the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah himself, party president Dr Farooq Abdullah, senior leaders like, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Abdul Rahim Rather, Mian Altaf, Mustafa Kamal, Mubarak Gul and Nasir Aslam Wani, making it the most prestigious and high profile among the six parliamentary constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir.

Tariq Hamid Karra addressing PDP workers during in election  campaign in old city.  Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Tariq Hamid Karra addressing PDP workers during in election campaign in old city.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

In the words of incumbent MP Dr Farooq Abdullah, Srinagar is the jugular vein of his party and family and was “non-negotiable”. But for many observers, he as well as Karra has very little to claim what they have done for the people in a place where separatists like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik hail from.

Though the former termed the election as a “non-issue” the later put everything to campaign in favour of a boycott along with Hurriyat (G) and Hurriyat (JK).

NC patron and union minister Farooq Abdullah is seeking re-election from Srinagar to the 16th Lok Sabha. NC won Lok Sabha elections from Srinagar five times so far.

Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was represented by Ghulam Mohammad Bakshi, of National Conference in 1967. In 1971, Shamim Ahmad Shamim won it as an Independent candidate and in 1977 Dr Farooq Abdullah got elected from here. It was again Farooq who won the seat in 1980 but the National Conference fielded Abdul Rashid Kabuli in 1984 who was declared elected. In 1989 NC fielded Mohammad Shafi Bhat, and won it again and in 1996 it was Ghulam Mohammad Mir Magami, of Indian National Congress who stood elected. The incumbent Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was elected from the seat in 1998 and it was retained by NC when Omar again was declared elected in 1999 and 2004 consecutively. However, NC President Dr Farooq himself contested in 2009 and was successful.

The data of 2009 Lok Sabha election suggests that PDP had won on 5 assembly segments of Hazratbal and Zadibal in Srinagar and Chadoora, Budgam and Beerwah in Budgam district. The party finished as runner up in Kangan, Ganderbal, Eidgah, Khanyar, Habba Kadal, Amira Kadal, Sonewar, Batamalo, Khansahab and Charar-e-Sharief assembly segments.

PDP had lost the Srinagar seat by a whisker in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. 195645 electors had used their right to franchise in 2004 and NC had stood successful securing 98416 votes while as PDP finished as runner up securing 75261 votes.

The voters of Srinagar city by and large do not vote since last two and a half decades and the data suggests that they prefer to remain indoors on the day of polling. The opposition PDP calls this attitude as “helping NC win.”

“To stay indoors on the day of polling is same as to vote for NC,” PDP candidate for Srinagar seat Tariq Hamid Karra said. PDP even alleges that NC creates disturbance on the day of polling to keep the voters away. “There are instances where NC workers were found raising election boycott slogans in different areas of the city but not before they had cast their vote,” a PDP lawmaker told Kashmir Life, adding ,“The people of the city especially down town area are aware about these incidents.” The party (PDP) opines that low poll percentage benefits NC.

Officials, however, are sure that Srinagar people will vote this time comparatively in larger numbers. “We have curbed the stone pelting in Srinagar up to 90 per cent, the situation has changed all together now and people feel more secure than before,” a police official posted in the old city area claimed, adding, “We hope that in the present secure situation people will vote in large numbers.”

“As NC has realized that its survival now solely depends on continuing conflict and uncertainty in J&K, the party is overtly and covertly playing all the dirty tricks so that the blood-letting of innocent Kashmiris goes on,” Karra said and added that people have to decide whether they will allow NC to continue with its “gory machinations” or stamp-out this “vicious circle of death and destruction” once for all.

National Conference on the other hand is confident that its old bastion, Srinagar will not disappoint it as always. “Srinagar people are our power as are the voters living in any part of the state and we are sure that they will cast their votes in our favour,” a NC Lawmaker claimed.

But the fact on ground is that no contesting party has held any considerable election rally in the city and every party is confined to indoor meetings and interior insignificant shows. No party flags are unfurling neither in the civil lines nor in the down town area of the city which is an indication of cool election campaigning. “The parties are concentrating on rural voters keeping in view the fact that urban people do not exhibit any concern about elections,” Shawkat Ahmad Parray, a political Science scholar who teaches at college level told Kashmir Life.

On one hand according to PDP, “the present election offers a historic opportunity for the State to defeat the vested interests that have held it captive for several decades” and on the other side NC is relying on its “Jugular vein” saying “the people of Srinagar constituency have to defeat the divisive forces.” There are separatists as well who are hoping on Srinagarites. There is a silver lining for PDP in the old NC bastions like and Charar-e-Sharief where according to political pundits the party has intruded silently and developed a vote bank.

“The people of Srinagar are politically more conscious because of obvious reasons, so we believe that they won’t vote,” Nayeem ahmad Khan, a senior separatist leaders told Kashmir Life adding, “The people living in rural areas also feel ashamed while voting but they at the same time have to face pressures from many quarters like police, forces and the pro-India politicians.”

To many, the areas like Kangan, Charar-e-Sharief, Ganderbal and Budgam will play a decisive role as these areas witness a heavy voter turnout. But there are commentators who see the areas boycotting the process as the decisive factor.

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