(Wave)ring Polls

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On the other side of Jawahar tunnel, BJP wave has reportedly gripped 37 out of 87 assembly seats of Jammu and Kashmir. So will BJP repeat summer polls in winter, Saima Bhat finds out

A view of snow capped mountains in Pir Panjal range .

A view of snow capped mountains in Pir Panjal range .

With the proceeding of phase-II polls on December 2, the fate of 4 incumbent ministers, 16 former ministers and sitting legislators among total 175 candidates for 18 Assembly constituencies will be awaiting the ‘finger touch’. Apart from selective North and South Kashmir segments, some Muslim belts of Jammu would be lined up for polls.

The polling outside Jawahar Tunnel is in grip of BJP wave. But in Muslim belts of Jammu, regional parties (NC and PDP) including Congress stand on sticky wicket after BJP fielded four Muslim candidates for these regions. Besides, while eyeing on mission 44 plus, BJP is playing tribal card in these Muslims belts: the party is wooing voters by vowing separate reservations for Gujjars. (Gujjars have been seeking the separate reservations from past four decades now. And by promising the same, BJP seemingly played a masterstroke.)

Gani-Mir-Ajaz-Khan-GM-SarooriAmong these Muslim belts, the voters will get divided on sectarian lines in Poonch Haveli, Surankote, Mendhar, Gool and Gulabgarh. Some senior scribes of the region say, voters in these regions never voted for any political party but instead voted for candidates. “Communalism plays big role in these belts,” they say, “so all major political parties have chosen their candidates while keeping in view these sectarian segments.”

In Surankote, for instance, the voters get divided between Gujjar and Pahari speaking people. (Paharis are further divided into Kashmiris and Rajputs.) Interestingly, the total number of electors in the belt is 84,829; and the victory margin in last polls was 2051. From this segment, Congress fielded Gujjar candidate; while as, NC and PDP have settled with Pahari candidates.

In 2008 assembly polls, 74.92 percent electors from Surankote cast their votes, declaring Congress’s Chowdary Mohammad Aslam winner. Six years after, locals say, Congress still has a poll edge over others, including PDP, a winner of 2014 parliamentary polls from the segment.

But instead of Chowdary Aslam (who recently passed away), Congress has fielded his son Chowdary Akram. Two immediate factors favour Chowdary junior in the upcoming polls: one, he is only candidate from Gujjar community (which is undivided); and second, ‘sympathy votes’ triggered by his father’s demise.

“Chowdary Akram has a good reputation in his community,” says Shahid Saleem, a senior journalist. “Besides, he makes his party to work.” After Lok Sabha win, PDP had created its chances, “but now,” he says, “PDP has marred its chances by fielding comparatively a weaker candidate.” Chowdary Jr, however, is no pleased person; instead of PDP, his pinch is BJP, which has fielded its Muslim candidate Taj Mohammad Khan to grasp votes on ‘reservation’ policy. Amid this poll scene, locals say, they (as Muslims) can’t boycott polls, “otherwise the minority candidates might win and rule over”. By all means, the ‘sympathy’ is pitted against the ‘reservation’ in Surankote.

In Mendhar segment, three Paharis: Congress’s Murtaza Khan, PDP’s Mahroof Khan and NC’s Ch Javed Ahmad Rana are top three competitors among eleven candidates in fray for total 78,302 votes. Earlier it was predicted that the trio will end up dividing the Muslim vote-bank among themselves. But after BJP’s Zulfikar Ali Pathan jumped into fray, the Muslim vote-bank got further fragmented.

Ramzan-Rana-Tantray-KhanIn last assembly polls, Mendhar witnessed 77.85 poll percentage declaring PDP’s Sardar Rafiq Hussain Khan a winner by a margin of 742 votes. However, in 2014 parliamentary polls, Congress won it. But now, a pre-poll mood has tilted towards NC, a winner of Mendhar in 1987, 1996 and 2002 assembly polls.

In Poonch Haveli, 10 candidates are in the fray for total 96,028 votes. In 2008, a poll percentage of 74.37 percent declared NC’s Ajaz Ahmad Jan victorious with a margin of 9,933 votes. Jan, many say, won 2008 polls due to “sympathy votes” set off by his father’s demise. But as a lawmaker, he has cut a ‘corrupted’ image for himself. “So, in 2014,” they say, “PDP is likely to win from Poonch Haveli.” Though both NC and PDP have fielded Pahari candidates, but PDP (fresh from parliamentary poll win) has an apparent edge.

Also, against PDP’s Shah Mohammad Tantray, Congress fielded ‘weaker’ candidate Ch Bashir Ahmad Naz. This has made contest bilateral (between NC and PDP); while BJP is likely to get around 10,000 to 12,000 Hindu votes. “During last assembly elections,” says a local. “PDP’s candidate lost, but still got MLA’s position and represented 2,000 to 3,000 population of schedule tribe community.”

In Poonch Haveli, Jamia Zia-ul-Uloom (JZU) plays an important role for declaring the winner. The body’s support is said to be very crucial in selecting the winner. But as of now, JZU hasn’t opened up their cards. It supported Congress in 2002 and NC in 2008. But the speculations are rife that the body is tilted towards PDP this winter; so, there are no prizes for guessing.

From Gulabgarh, seven candidates are contesting for total 58,814 votes. The segment recorded a poll percentage of 77.55. NC’s Abdul Gani Malik was a winner, whose ‘word of mouth’ win is on  cards yet again. Others in fray are PDP’s Shafiq-Ur-Rehman who faced loss in 2008 on Congress ticket. For 2014, Congress has fielded Mumtaz Ahmed, brother of Ajaz Ahmad Khan, but in 2008 he was in fray as an independent candidate. The same seat was retained by the coalition government of NC-Congress in Lok Sabha elections this summer.

Similarly in Gool Arnas segment, ten candidates are in fray including Congress’s Ajaz Ahmed Khan, PDP’s Imtiyaz Ahmed Shan and NC’s Shamshad Bano. In last Assembly elections, Ajaz Khan won with a margin of 3,452 votes. With his strong Gujjar vote-bank, he might end up winning Gool Arnas, again. Though Gool witnessed a series of killings in a local Masjid by government forces during his tenure, but locals are ‘impressed’ with his ‘good’ work. What probably further favours his chances is his recent parliamentary poll victory.

In Reasi Constituency, 14 candidates are up in polls including BJP’s Ajay Nanda, JKNPP’s Balwan Singh and Congress’s Jugal Kishore. BJP’s Baldev Raj won the last assembly polls with a margin of 6,662 votes. BJP’s Raj retained the seat in Lok Sabha elections as well. Further in Chenani constituency, seven candidates are in fray for 80,351 voters. Congress’s Krishan Chander won the last elections with a margin of 6438. But this around, Dina Nath of BJP (a winner of Lok Sabha election from the segment) is said to be favourite. And from Udhampur seat, among 10 candidates in fray, the contest is seen between BJP’s Pawan Khajuria and J&KNPP’s Balwant Singh Mankotia; though, 2014 Lok Sabha election winner BJP seems to have an upper hand.

Six candidates are in fray from Ramnagar segment including NC’s Raj Kapoor, BJP’s Ranbir Singh Pathania, Congress’s Vinod Kumar Sharma and J&K NPP’s Harsh Dev Singh. With a total victory margin of 12,146 votes, Harsh Dev Singh was the last assembly winner, while as BJP after making inroads in Ramnagar with this year’s Lok Sabha stands neck-to-neck in the segment with Bhim Singh’s party.

The last assembly saw Congress’s Ghulam Mohammad Saroori winning Inderwal segment by a winning margin of 10415 votes. After winning Lok Sabha polls this summer, it is said that Congress will maintain its grip on Inderwal this winter as well.

Now before the dawn of December 2, here is the kicker: the ‘secular’ trio—NC, PDP and Congress (still ‘polls’ apart) are busy selling old wine in new bottles; while as, BJP is selling ideas and ideals akin to erstwhile Parja Parishad. So will BJP repeat summer polls in these Jammu segments this winter? Well, only days of wait now.

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