by Sheikh Qayoom
North Kashmir’s Baramulla Lok Sabha seat that went to poll on April 11, 2019, saw a four cornered contest between the NC, PC, PDP and the independent candidate Engineer Rashid although there were five other candidates also in the fray.
The poll process was of course marred by the death of a seventh grade student in Mandigam village despite the fact that by far and large the voting had remained peaceful during the day.
The incident has regenerated fears about violence during the poll process in the Valley. The by-poll for south Kashmir’s Anantnag Lok Sabha seat could not be held after seven civilians were killed during the by-poll in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in 2017 which was won by Dr Farooq Abdullah, the NC president while only seven per cent voters turned out to cast their votes.
There have been areas in Baramulla constituency where not a single voter turned out. In the Sopore assembly segment, the poll officials said the turnout of voters had remained as low as four per cent. Expectedly, better voter turnout was recorded in border belts of the constituency including Uri, Karnah and Gurez.
The poll campaign of all the four main contestants remained largely focused on political rather than developmental issues. The NC said it would protect article 370 and 35A while its opponents in the PDP, PC and Engineer Rashid promised voters they would do so better than the NC.
It will continue to remain a debate as to how many voters were enthused by the poll promises of the contesting parties. In Kashmir, it has always been about who the voter wants to jettison rather than those the cynical voter wants to take on board.
Going by this analogy, it was generally argued that this constituency would be more about change than about trying those tested over long periods of time. This was the driving spirit that swirled the crowds around Engineer Rashid. His electoral promises often transgressed beyond the borders of mainstream politics. He poached largely on the separatist camp by promising to fight for plebiscite and highlighting the Kashmir issue in the Indian Parliament and international fora.
Raja Aijaz Ali of the PC campaigned for protecting the special identity of the state, but the trump card of his campaign remained the non-delivery on electoral promises by the NC and the PDP.
NC’s Muhammad Akbar Lone who is not known for exercising discretion while delivering political speeches said he would abuse those a hundred times who shouted slogans against Pakistan. Sajad Lone, president of the PC told poll gatherings that Lone had been trained in the political school of his late father, Abdul Gani Lone.
The PDP tried to make gain of the BJP pulling out of the ruling coalition headed by Mehbooba Mufti. Its candidate, Abdul Qayoom Wani, told crowds that the BJP had pulled out of the ruling coalition because the PDP had stood as a huge rock in the way of the BJP furthering its right wing agenda.
Perhaps going by the attendance of people in different poll rallies, one would arrive at the wrong conclusion.
One would be surprised if traditional craftsmanship of well entrenched political parties got defeated by the new entrants into the political arena of this constituency. NC has strong pockets of influence in Sonawar assembly segment where its candidate would have the advantage being a local fighting to get into the Parliament. The party has areas of influence in almost all voting segments of Baramulla even when the numbers supporting the NC at those places can be debated.
Engineer Rashid appears to have caught the imagination of the youth in a big way not only in Langate, but also in almost all other segments. Shah Faesal and Ghulam Hassan Mir have also supported him. How much of the youth support seen in his crowds would translate into votes remains to be seen.
PC’s Raja Aijaz Ali has strong influence among the Pahari community of Uri segment from where he would definitely get a respectable lead, it is generally believed. Sajad Lone’s influence in Handwara and other places will also come handy for the PC candidate.
PDP candidate, Abdul Qayoom Wani, is in the race, but it seems he is not among the front runners unless he is able to have pulled out a rabbit from the bag during yesterday’s polling.
And yet, politics does not travel like a train on a well-laid track. Would the emergence of new faces those must include Engineer Rashid given the fact that he is trying to rise to a much bigger canvass by trying to win the seat, rattle and finally raze to the ground the established towers of power in Baramulla? We would only know when the EVMs are opened on May 23.
The author is a senior journalist.