They know they are not winning, but they are contesting either as independents or on behalf of parties least known in Kashmir.  Mujtaba Hussain and Umaima Reshi  talk to several contestants from Lok Sabah seat Srinagar to help voters know who they are and why they are in a contest they never will win

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LS Election Srinagar is a contest between 24 candidates. While the contest is between two and possibly three, many others are in the fray.

Srinagar goes to polls on May 13, and 24 candidates are in the fray. The contest is presumed to be between JKNC’s Agha Ruhullah and PDP’s Waheed Parra with the Apni Party’s People Conference-supported Mohammad Ashraf Mir taking a share in certain areas. Who are the 21 other candidates who give the double-digit identity to the contest?

These candidates for the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency are being seen as less significant ones, with some even being dubbed as ‘paper tigers’. The motivation of these candidates to contest elections is unclear, though the most vocal among them is promoting the politics of development, jobs, and empowerment. The mainstream majors term them as ‘vote cutters’, dividers’, ‘vote spoilers’ and ‘dummy candidates’.  Most of them are aware that they will not be able to win; still, they emerge as potential future candidates.

Virtual Leader

Jibran Firdous Dar, one of the candidates in the fray is a social media sensation. Often seen using social media for flaunty statements, he has been getting good attention. Over the last few months, he had been very vocal, mobile and too talkative on issues of development. At a few places, he even faced rough weather and he liked it to get live.

After doing his B Tech at Haryana’s Kurukshetra University and working for a short stint as a model, Jibran left everything and started gaining interest in politics. He is constantly speaking against Kashmir’s traditional political parties. Initially seen as a member of the Aam Aadmi Party, he is an independent candidate after the party disowned him.

“I call these parties family parties and they have always plundered the people of Jammu and Kashmir for their political gains,” Jibran said. Post-election, he intends to work as a fashion model. When asked about funding his election, Jibran said that he has not taken a single penny from any person, including his parents. “I am funding the election out of my savings that I did during my working years. I believe money has little importance; courage and confidence are needed to raise people’s voices and represent them.”

An Onco-Surgeon

Dr Qazi Ashraf is a certified cancer surgeon. He said he has contributed his research to numerous Western and Japanese journals and has written five books on subjects like cancer, religion, and psychological aspects. He is also contesting from Srinagar.

In 2018, Qazi started a forum, which became an organization later, JK United Front. It comprises of “well-educated professionals”. Because of the reading-down of Article 370, he said the organization could not reach out to the masses. It is using an election campaign to reach people.

In the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, the main contest is between JKNC’s Agha Ruhullah Mehdi and PDP’s WAheed Parra. Apani Party’s Mohammad Ashraf Mir is expected to poll better, especially in the city and its immediate periphery. KL collage by Malik Qaisar

“The main aim is to convey to the people that to change our future we must change our today and that can be done by appropriately using our vote,” Qazi said. “Boycott politics gave us nothing in the last thirty years. The result of that has only been ‘the formation of orphanages and surge in the population of widows. To change the scenario, we must come out and vote.”

The focus of his organisation has always been apolitical activity. Things took a turn with the decision of the Supreme Court to contest the election and the axe fell on Qazi’s shoulder so he had to bell the cat. He self-funds to run the campaigns.

“People are supporting us and we are running social media campaigns and trying our best to reach out to people. Our mission includes certain goals like talking to people who own small units, vendors, or small-scale transporters like auto drivers, who are not able to pay their loans because of the disruption of the economy. There is a movement in India called Karz Mukht  Abhiyan and I have been offered to take part in it,” Qazi said. “If I get elected, I will demand a bill in the parliament that the loans of all these people who come in the lower category should be waived off.”

Qazi’s second target is the restoration of Article 35 A. Energy is also on top of his mind. “We have a deficit of 1200 MW. We can have no establishment of industries in Kashmir when we merely have an energy supply and that too not cheap.  We have more than 15 lakh youngsters involved in drug abuse. No political party has even raised a question about it on the floor of the parliament. At least the imams have been raising these issues through religious perspective,” Qazi said. “It is not a problem if I lose or win, it is in the hands of God. What matters is ideology. Our political system has failed society and has not been able to portray the real interests of the people of JK. This has to be talked about and I want to put this message across.”

Fighting the ‘Gang’

Erstwhile spokesperson of Engineer Rasheed-led Awami Itehad Party (AIP), Sheeban Ashai is contesting as another independent candidate. An engineering graduate, he said he is fighting against the “Gujarat gang”, which according to him includes all the parties operating in Jammu and Kashmir – PDP, JKNC, PC, AP, or AAP. He claimed he is being “treated unfairly” and is not allowed to campaign freely because he is “consistently speaking against the BJP and RSS”.

“Media is also been showing an absolute blackout of us, because of our hard stance against the apartheid regime of the ruling party,” Ashai said. “There is an institutional bias against me and the election commission must intervene in it.” He said he is fighting for the restoration of Article 370 and 35A along with the developmental concerns. “Kashmir has been sold enough by the traditional parties, and only our party has the guts to publicly announce that we would never ally with the Muslim-hating BJP.”

Bharat Jodo

There is Bharat Jodo Party and Younis Ahmad is its candidate and founder. Between 2008 and 2019, Younis worked in the National Conference (NC). Until 2017, he was block secretary and further got promoted as a block president which took him 10 years to gain the post. He also worked for Apni Party and Namo Sena India, before establishing his own.

“Everyone thinks about themselves and the hierarchy in our political system is evident. I established my party because I wanted to work on my own,” Younis said. “Our main emphasis is on electricity and to focus on the problems of the BPL category. We are self-funding and one of my participants, Irfan Chak from Baramulla has played a huge role in contributing financially. I trust in God.”

Azad’s Man

Amir Ahmad Bhat has been fielded by the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP). He is a sportsman who has played volleyball, and high jumping and participated in two nationals in cricket. He is the district president of the volleyball association in Srinagar.

“After delving a long time in sports, I switched to merchant navy and was on a ship for around four and a half years,” Amir said. “Finally I came back in 2011, and joined as a reservation manager in tourism, eventually starting my own tour and travel and dealing with hotel sales.”

Amir got into politics when Azad after leaving Congress appointed him the district president of his party, and the assembly constituency in charge of Khanyar.

“The primary concerns that we will address are the unemployment affecting our youth and how we can provide for them. It is not important that we only pursue government jobs, we have a substantial number of young people engaged in the IT sector and many more,” Amir said. “We must prioritise developing infrastructure to accommodate over 50,000 youth. We can also concentrate on establishing our own multinational corporations (MNCs).”

Emphasising development, preservation of natural resources and dealing with a hike in electricity, Amir stated, “We haven’t got sufficient electricity, yet we are required to pay double for it. So, we are also concentrating on projects whereby we can generate our own electricity using not only thermal energy but also coal. We will also be focusing on tourism as 7 per cent of our GDP is dependent on it and it contributes to 50 to 60 per cent of employment. As a youth, I know what we have faced so I would not want the coming generation to face the same.”Top of Form

The Panther

Udhampur-born fledgling Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) has fielded its State General Secretary Hakikat Singh from Srinagar.

Singh said his party avoids forming coalitions. “We fight elections on our terms uncompromisingly,” Singh said. “I have been associated with the Panthers party since my college days and have worked closely with the party founder Bhim Singh till his last breath in 2023.”

“Our slogan is Haq and Insaaf,” Singh said, insisting it envisages everythingdevelopment, dignity, and humanistic morals”. His party, he said has been demanding the restoration of statehood since the day it was degraded because it is a question of dignity and honour for all of us.

Singh is a graduate of Kashmir University.

Loktantrik Party

Rubina Akhter lives in Prem Nagar Jammu and is the national general secretary of the National Loktantrik Party (NLP) and a candidate for Srinagar. After working as a “social worker” for many years, she said she joined politics.

“I worked as general secretary of the Congress party for almost two years. During the 2018 municipal elections, the party despite the ward being reserved for a female candidate did not give me the mandate. I resigned, contested as an independent, and finished second,” Rubeena said. “Later I joined the BJP and worked hard to make a mark, but the BJP has always lied to the people. They do not deliver what they promise.”

Ultimately, Rubeena joined the NLP in 2018 at the party headquarters in Kanpur and formed a team in Jammu and Kashmir. “We now have an established group of workers in Srinagar and all over Kashmir,” she said. She laughed when asked about how she would contest NC and PDP. “Winning or losing is not in my hands, but I will reach every voter to win Srinagar.”

Jibran Dar, an independent candidate from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency canvassing in Lal Chowk in May 2024. He started his political career on Facebook, joined AAP and eventually fielded himself as an independent.

Rebelling the Inheritance

Javeed Ahmad Wani is the second candidate from Pulwama who is in the fray. His candidature is a rebellion against the political set-up that should have been part of his inheritance.

“I have been a victim of the dirty politics of the domestic mainstream parties,” Wani said. “My father Ghulam Qadir Wani and my brother Nazir Ahmad Wani both served as MLAs for the JKNC and both were assassinated during the turmoil period of the nineties by unknown gunmen.”

Wani, however, does not believe in the ideology of any of the domestic political parties. He believes Kashmir’s traditional political parties play divisive politics and keep “portraying as if the union government has snatched everything from us”.

The engineering graduate from the Niloora had earlier joined the now-defunct Jammu Kashmir Peoples’s Movement (JKPM) of Shah Faisal and Shehla Rashid Shora.

“I was greatly influenced by Shah Faisal and his conduct and served as a state body member until the party was rendered defunct,” Javeed said. Earlier, he contested the DDC elections of 2020 on the JKPM ticket but lost to the JKNC. “I do not know if I could win an election against the high-profile candidates of the domestic parties, but I will continue to garner and propose new-age politics free from animosity and division.”

An Ambitious Noorabadi

Sajad Ahmad Dar aka Sajjad Noorabadi is from Damhal Hanjipora (Kulgam) and he is contesting as an independent candidate.

Occasionally making news, Noorabadi started his journey with the Awami Itihaad Party (AIP) as a worker. This is not the first time that he will be contesting. In 2019, he contested and lost his security deposit.

Later he joined the Tehreek-e-Insaaf Jammu and Kashmir and served as its general secretary. He also participated in the DDC elections of 2020 from the Kulgam District but lost it too. There is an FIR registered against him based on the case of Rioting Unlawful Assembly.

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