Battling For Lal Chowk

With both NC and PDP busy in pre-poll rhetoric, their rival BJP’s lady dentist is going door-to-door in Amira Kadal. Safwat Zargar reports

Srinagar’s first bridge Amira Kadal connecting the two parts of assembly segment. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Srinagar’s first bridge Amira Kadal connecting the two parts of assembly segment.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Among the only three assembly constituencies retained by National Conference (NC) in Srinagar district in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections that sent shock waves in NC camp, Amira Kadal, a key face of NC’s base in Srinagar, although to some extent, saved it from the possible embarrassment of a whitewash in its traditional stronghold.

The constituency for its most part, electorally, has remained loyal to NC; however, much like every assembly seat of Srinagar, it is also known for least polling and pro-boycott.

Perhaps, it is precisely why numbers of votes polled – however less – are worrying factors for political parties in the fray for this seat. They know that even 50 or a few hundred votes, polled here and there, might affect the prospects of success. It has happened in the past as well.

One of the eight assembly seats of Srinagar district, Amira Kadal, out of ten elections held since 1957, has went seven times to NC and thrice to Congress. In 2002 assembly elections, Mohammad Shafi Bhat, a lawyer and politician from Amira Kadal, defeated NC’s Ghulam Nabi Mir, on a Congress ticket. Bhat, previously affiliated with NC, had switched over to Congress in 2002.

Gearing up for assembly polls to be held later this year, both NC and PDP have announced their candidates.

While it will be Nasir Aslam Wani, basically a resident of Sogam in North Kashmir’s Kupwara, who will contest on NC’s ticket, PDP has made a change in its mandate this election, by giving mandate to one of the valley’s top businessman Syed Altaf Bukhari who actually belongs to Boniyar in North Kashmir’s Uri of Baramulla district.

Amirakadal-ConstituencyWith Congress almost parting ways with NC in 2014, Amira Kadal appears a tough contest between NC and PDP.

Wani and Bukhari assert they are proud residents of Srinagar. This factor, if pushed up by any local candidate from Amira Kadal might play a role in bringing the local loyalties against Wani and Bukhari.

“Last time NC candidate Nasir Aslam won after he defeated a local candidate Parvaiz Ahmad Bhat. But this election is altogether different because PDP also has a candidate from outside,” believes Junaid Rather, a university student from Natipora.

Rather, who foresees mainly an NC-PDP battle in Amira Kadal in 2014, however, draws another perspective from non-local contestants of two major regional political parties in fighting, this elections. “People who have political ambitions will never want to cripple their way. It is time for both the parties to realise the loopholes of choosing non-local candidates. Individuals matter. Understanding constituency and proximity to people acts as a pre-cursor to how people will behave in polls,” he says.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have taken up this point seriously. Recently, erstwhile MLA from Amira Kadal Mohd Shafi Bhat’s daughter, Dr Hina Bhat, joined BJP. Hina, though not announced officially, will contest from Amira Kadal.

A dentist by profession, Hina, representing a right-wing Hindu party in a Muslim-dominated valley, might look a new face in the list of political big-wigs of the valley, but “she has her father at back.”

“My father always worked for people when he was elected MLA in 2002 from Amira Kadal. And that is helping me. He is guiding me and we are continuously visiting people door-to-door in our constituency,” Hina says.

“Current government and MLA Nasir Aslam Wani has left so many problems and issues unaddressed and pending in the constituency that people are suffocating and brewing with anger. They want a change,” feels Hina.

Hina, who left her government job in April to focus on her political career, has three issues on her agenda: “Women empowerment, Youth and Development.”

For Hina, youth, who have been slapped with Public Safety Acts and as a result have been denied passports and government jobs, is “first priority.”

Nasir Aslam Wani
Nasir Aslam Wani

“I want them (youth) get good jobs and be successful in life,” she says.

Amira Kadal constituency, a highly important area administratively and hub of governance, spreads across number of areas including pro-freedom bastion Maisuma, Abi Guzar, Bar-Bar Shah on one side to areas like Rambagh, Baghat, Barzulla, Hyderpora, Sanat Nagar, Rawalpora, Chanpora, Bagh-e-Mehtab in civil lines. The constituency touches district Budgam on its outskirts, while it shares boundaries with Batamaloo, Sonwar and Khanyar assembly constituencies in Srinagar.

Issues and problems in the constituency are myriad, people say. While major roads in the constituency are well-macadamized, the condition is appalling in the interiors. “The links roads connecting Mehjoor Nagar and Natipora are in pathetic condition and nobody seems to be caring about it,” Mohamad Yusuf, a resident of Mehjoor Nagar, points out.

“Water scarcity is an important issue since many new residential houses have cropped up in the area,” Yusuf says. “They dug up the road and take water connections for their homes. It has reduced the water flow and people are now using tube wells in the heart of Srinagar city.”

For Shakeel Sofi, a businessman from Barzulla, “grabbing of state land by some blue-eyed people in the vicinity of Rambagh-Natipora-Mehjoor Nagar belt is a serious issue.” According to Sofi, Haar Nambal –a state marshy land –has been almost turned into a residential colony. “All these people get clearance certificates by using political influences and thus, a green signal to ignore the concerns of an ecologically fragile zone,” Sofi informs.

Dr. Hina
Dr. Hina

While the constituency has a considerable youth vote, it also houses a large number of impoverished communities and minority groups who usually have less influence on policy making. Interestingly, politicians, seemingly aware about pro-boycott mood in the constituency, throng these areas to garner vote base. It is this belt which votes in the elections.

The constituency also has a sizable population of different religious minorities like Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs. Keeping in view the trend of less voting, a massive voting behaviour if shown by a minority group or a particular community in favour of a candidate might turn the tables. BJP knows this, too.

“Amira Kadal constituency contenders included a local ex-militant from PDP who was worth nothing, and on the other side Nasir Sogami, who does not know the political and social nuances of the area because he is from Sogam,” says Mukhtar Ahmad, a government employee from the constituency.

“Wani is someone who ruined the passage of Jehlum at Raj Bagh to connect Abi Guzar bund with his hotel at Lal Chowk. He doesn’t care for environment,” he adds.

Nasir Aslam Wani, on the other hand, claims his constituency is among the top spending constituencies of state. “During my tenure of five and a half years as an MLA, I have ensured every kind of facilities to people. From drainage and health facilities to creation of sports stadiums for youth, I have tried my best to serve the people of my constituency,” Wani says.

“There is no PDP wave. It was just an anti-NC sentiment on which PDP capitalized,” claims Wani.

Altaf Bukhari
Altaf Bukhari

However, Wani, who is also provincial president Kashmir for NC, says minority groups have a “good relationship” with him. “Bukhari does not know the constituency.”

On the other hand, PDP’s Bukhari believes “anger and hatred of NC among people is the point on which PDP or any other party can divert vote share. My job is to convert this hatred into vote for PDP.”

Bukhari, was entrusted by PDP with the job of contesting elections in one of the bastions of National Conference – Amira Kadal.

Bukhari seems to have “got the pulse” of problems and issues in his constituency. “I have visited all the 11 wards of my constituency and am getting a feel of what people are facing. Basically all these issues are failures of NC and people want change,” he says and adds, “PDP is that change.”

While Wani discredits the claims that boycott in polls helps NC as “false and frivolous”, Bukhari of PDP does not subscribe to the impact of boycott on success. “You don’t see 100 per cent voting in any country. One who has to vote will vote in any case.”

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