Campaigning Ends for Baramulla Lok Sabha Seat

   

SRINAGAR: The blazing campaign trail in the prestigious Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency ended on Saturday, setting the stage for more than 17.32 lakh eligible voters to exercise their franchise in the fifth phase of the general elections on May 20.

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The first major political battle post the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 will decide the fate of Omar Abdullah, the National Conference vice-president and a former chief minister of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, and 21 others in the fray from the north Kashmir seat.

The constituency is spread over 18 assembly segments in the three districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Bandipora and also includes two segments of Budgam.

Officials said the political blitzkrieg witnessed over the past few weeks from the candidates, including 14 Independents — two of whom are women — ended peacefully at 6 pm for the mandatory 48-hour “silence period” before the 13-hour-long polling on May 20.

A total 2,103 polling stations, including 1,859 in rural and 244 in urban areas, have been set up to facilitate the voters to register their choice, they said, adding that all necessary arrangements, including security, have been put in place to ensure free, fair and smooth polling.

Abdullah faces the biggest challenge from separatist-turned-politician and former minister Sajad Lone, who heads the People’s Conference.

The entry of Awami Ittehad Party’s Sheikh Abdul Rashid, alias Engineer Rashid, who is lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail after his arrest in 2019 by the National Investigation Agency in a terror-funding case, has also made the contest interesting.

People’s Democratic Party candidate Fayaz Mir, a former Rajya Sabha member, is also in the fray.

The constituency recorded 34.17 per cent polling in the 2019 general elections with Kupwara district registering the highest turnout at 51.7 per cent, followed by Bandipora at 31.8 per cent and Baramulla at 24 per cent.

Two segments of Budgam were included in the constituency on the recommendations of the delimitation commission two years ago.

The last day of campaigning saw Abdullah reaching out to voters in the Beerwah constituency of Budgam, which he had won for the party in the 2014 assembly elections, while Lone was making an attempt to woo the electorate in the border township of Uri in Baramulla district.

Alongside the abrogation of Article 370, the campaigning saw the leading rivals going full throttle against each other with Abdullah and Lone bringing in the BJP to target each other, even as the saffron party is not contesting from any of the three parliamentary seats of Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag–Rajouri in the Valley.

The National Conference has accused the People’s Conference and its supporter the Apni Party, along with the Democratic Progressive Azad Party — headed by former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad — of having a tacit understanding with the BJP.

The Apni Party, led by former minister Altaf Bukhari, has fielded its candidates in Srinagar and Anantnag-Rajouri. It is holding rallies with the BJP in Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Jammu region.

The twin border districts are part of the reshaped Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, which will go to the polls in the sixth phase on May 25.

The recent two-day sudden visit of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Srinagar ahead of polling in Baramulla did not go down well with Abdullah, who alleged that it was to help the BJP’s “proxy” parties in the elections.

Shah, during a visit to Jammu last month, had asked people in the Valley to vote for parties other than the National Conference, Congress and the People’s Democratic Party.

“While the BJP has not fielded its own candidates, its ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ teams … be it the bucket, apple, cricket bat and ink-pot have been working on its directions,” Abdullah had said, referring to the election symbols of the Democratic Progressive Azad Party, People’s Conference, Apni Party and the People’s Democratic Party, respectively.

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