With Udhampur going into the first phase of polls, the Lok Sabha elections have started throwing surprises in Jammu and Kashmir, reports Faiqa Masoodi

Choudhary Lal Singh in Jammu after returning to Congress on March 21, 2024.

With the first notification involving the Udhampur constituency issued for the Lok Sabha elections, the politics in Jammu and Kashmir has got an upstart after a protracted freeze. Udhampur, a sprawling constituency comprising Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Udhampur and Reasi will go to polls in the first phase on April 19.

Off late, Udhampur has remained a BJP-represented constituency. Dr Jitendra Singh Rana has represented this seat twice and his party has fielded him again to secure a hat trick. He has filed his nominations already.

It was Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP), which was the first to field the candidate. Azad’s right-hand man, GM Saroori, a former lawmaker, is contesting from this seat.

The most important development in the region is the return of Choudhary Lal Singh to Congress after enjoying power with the BJP. A politician who is keen to see Jammu as a separate state, Singh had won Udhampur for Congress twice in 2004 and 2009. He then migrated to BJP and became a minister in the BJPDP-led government and was sacked for supporting the rapists in the gang rape and murder of a minor Gujjar girl in Kathua’s Rasana in 2018.

Singh later floated his party, Dogra  Swabhiman Sangathan in 2019. Soon he and his wife started facing a money laundering case about an educational trust and eventually the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested him in November 2023. He is currently on bail.

JKNC and JKPDP are unlikely to contest the seat. However, there could be many others who will throw their hat in the ring. However, the contest shall remain between BJP and Congress with Azad’s party slicing part of the Muslim votes in the Chenab Valley region.

Azad In Kashmir

Azad, who holds pockets of influence in Chenab Valley, has Kashmir ambitions too. He is currently working to create a ‘third front’ in Kashmir by joining hands with Syed Altaf Bukhari’s Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party and the Sajjad Lone-led Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference.

So far, reports in the media suggest that Rafi Ahmad Mir of the Apni Party and Salman Nizami of DPAP have admitted to the “initial talks” with “like-minded parties”. The idea is to field consensus candidates from three Kashmir constituencies, one of which South Kashmir shares with Pir Panchal Valley.

The idea behind the “third front” is to fight the INDIA alliance of which both JKNC and JKPDP are the members. The Peoples Conference has already announced the candidature of Sajad Lone from the north Kashmir Baramulla constituency. If this front comes into being, it would help Lone get Apni Party support against the JKNC candidate, who is expected to be the main contender. Azad’s party lacks any strong support base in north Kashmir. However, off late, Basharat Bukhari joined him. The erstwhile broadcaster who was in the first row of politicians in JKPDP switched sides and joined JKNC. He later deserted NC and joined the Peoples Conference. Now, he is with Azad. In these fast quantum jumps in the last few years, it remains to be seen if he has retained any of his support base at the ground level.

BJP’s Dynasty Campaign

The ruling BJP is keen to have a formal foothold in Kashmir while it hopes to retain the erstwhile state’s Hindu belt. The party’s election campaign formally started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu and Srinagar here he spoke to major audiences and launched scathing attacks on the two political families. It remains the main party plank in Kashmir where it has induced the process of generating a basket of stakeholders.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and LG Manoj Sinha participated in the ‘Viksit Bharat Viksit Jammu Kashmir’ programme at Bakshi Stadium on March 07 2024. (Pic credit JKDIPR)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and LG Manoj Sinha participated in the ‘Viksit Bharat Viksit Jammu Kashmir’ programme at Bakshi Stadium on March 07 2024. (Pic credit JKDIPR)

“To strengthen democracy, the people of Kashmir should vote BJP or any other party but teach the three political parties (Congress, NC and PDP) a lesson,” Home Minister, Amit Shah told a media group organised by Rising India Summit 2024 in Delhi. He said for him “opening of BJP’s account in Kashmir” was unimportant but what is important is that “people should punish the three dynastic political parties by voting out them for not allowing democracy to get roots in the Valley”.

Jammu and Kashmir is under the direct central rule of the BJP since 2018 summer. The elections were so delayed that the Supreme Court had to set a deadline. Home Minister, however, asserts that his party elected 30,000 panchayat representatives “for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir since independence”.

On reforms in Jammu and Kashmir, post-Article 370, Shah asserted huge changes. “Today, every Kashmiri gets annual health insurance of Rs 5 lakh, water supply and rice, tourism is flourishing, theatres have opened after 30 years. Muharram procession was also taken out after nearly three decades. This is all because of democracy.”

To push the ‘dynasts’ to a corner, the BJP has been working overtime since 2018 to undo the JKNC and JKPDP in Kashmir. JKNC took a hit at the top with Devinder Singh Rana joining the BJP, a party where his brother was already a minister in the PMO. It suffered losses in Jammu, unlike Kashmir. Others who left the party and joined the BJP included Surjit Singh Salathia, and former lawmakers Kamal Arora and Prem Sagar Aziz. More recently, after the Pahari-speaking people were granted Scheduled Tribe (ST) reservation, two erstwhile lawmakers Mushtaq Bukhari and Dr Shahnaz Ganai embraced the Parivaar.

However, it was JKPDP that took the most of the impact. It started with Altaf Bukhari, a key minister in the last BJPDP government, who took a lot of his colleagues along and floated the Apni Party. Those deserting the PDP included Imran Raza Ansari, Basharat Bukhari, Abdul Rahim Rather, Muzaffar Baig, Javed Baig, Javed Mustafa Mir, and Ashraf Mir. Only a few joined JKPC and JKNC and most of them remain parked with the Apni Party.


Surviving this onslaught has helped JKNC to emerge stronger. It is perhaps this factor that plays at the heart of the crisis in the JKNC-JKPDP tensions as members of the INDIA alliance. JKNC has decided against sharing any of the three Kashmir berths with any party. This has pushed the JKPDP to a corner in Kashmir’s political landscape, especially in the Lok Sabha polls.

File image of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Omar Abdullah told the media that his party will celebrate Eid and then announce the candidates as the three Kashmir seats are supposed to go to polls later. Nominations may take time but tensions will continue.

“If Farooq Abdullah or Omar Abdullah had told Mehbooba ji to give all these seats to them, as far as I know, she would have done it,” Waheed Parra told reporters last week. “PAGD alliance had been working for five years; the NC leaders were now making “arrogant statements” about being the number one party”. Parra said they kept this alliance for DDC polls, corporation elections, and many other issues for five years. “When it was time to keep people united, they decided to divide people. And their arrogance in stating that our party is nowhere, we have no vote share.” He said JKNC won the 2019 elections because of people boycotting the polls.

PAGD is a non-electoral alliance between JKNC, JKPDP and CPIM. Most of the decisions it took in many years had electoral politics in it.

After taking the LS decision, the JKNC leaders have resumed talking about the PAGD. “Our enemies are eagerly waiting for us to declare the end of the PAGD. However, our goal is not just to win seats; it is to defeat those who have erased our identity,” Dr Farooq Abdullah said in Srinagar. “Why would PAGD end?”

In Kulgam, Omar Abdullah reiterated that PAGD was intact. “Though we run our own parties, PAGD stands as it has been. Even the alliance may have a meeting in a day or two; you will get to know,” Omar said at Damhal Hanjipora. Will these assertions make any impact on the ground is not known.

A Nomination from Jail

Amid the Sangh’s Kashmir sweetie’s speaking on TV about the changes that have flooded Kashmir in the aftermath of reading down of Article 370, an interesting development was reported. Awami Ittehad Party said its founder, Abdul Rashid Sheikh, 56, has been unanimously nominated as party candidate for north Kashmir Baramulla. A two-time lawmaker, Rashid is in jail in a UAPA case.

The unmaking of PAGD, an illustration by KL designer Malik Kaisar

Recently Omar Abdullah said Engineer Rashid has felt constrained to file his nominations from jail even though nothing has been established against him so far. “We all know which Kashmiri politician is behind all this,” he told reporters while condemning the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal. “There has been no trial against him. He has not been found involved in anything. Retaining him in jail is part of the conspiracy against him. We all know the Kashmiri politician who is behind all this.”

With these developments taking place across Jammu and Kashmir at the beginning of the season, the election year offers too many surprises. Wait and watch.


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