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Key faces of J&K politics to fight each other in Lok Sabha elections

Anantnag: Jammu and Kashmir’s key opposition leaders are more likely to fight with each other in the Lok Sabha elections which is seen by the local watchers as a fortunate turn of events for the BJP, the party almost all of them castigate day in, day out and publicly pledge to take on to “save the constitution and democracy.”

A day after Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) announced that its leader and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad will seek election to Lok Sabha from Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said on Wednesday that her party is fielding its candidates for all the three Lok Sabha seats of the Kashmir Valley.

One of her aides told this newspaper that she is under “tremendous pressure” from the PDP rank and file to herself join the fray from Anantnag-Rajouri, her home constituency, to “rebuff the arrogant stance of the National Conference (NC) particularly the display of one-upmanship by its leader Omar Abdullah.”

Ms. Mufti while speaking to reporters in capital Srinagar also pointed to the mood in the PDP being indignant. “According to Omar, PDP doesn’t exist anywhere. Whatever Omar has stated yesterday, could have been conveyed to us earlier. But the way Omar spoke about PDP has angered my workers, who are not in favour of supporting NC at this juncture,” she said.

The NC vice president and former chief minister Mr. Abdullah had on Tuesday said that the PDP may not field candidates against his party in the Kashmir Valley as both the parties are integral part of I.N.D.I.A alliance. However, the PDP leadership and rank and file appear to be incensed over Mr. Abdullah’s, without taking the PDP leadership on board, announcing the name of former minister and popular Gujjar leader Mian Altaf Ahmed as the NC’s candidate for the Anantnag-Rajouri seat and his insisting on the party contesting the remaining two seats of the Valley as well.

PDP was hoping Rahul Gandhi will get NC to cede, at least, one seat in Valley to field its candidate from. “If the primary objective of the I.N.D.I.A. alliance is to fight collectively against the BJP, it should not have been any difficult for the NC to have consensus on the candidates for all the five seats in J&K. While it agreed to leave the two seats of the Jammu region for the Congress, why is it adamant to field its own candidates for the three seats of the Valley, leaving no room for any other alliance partner but to go against its highhandedness,” said a PDP leader.

Mr Abdullah has defended his party’s decision to field the candidates for all the three Lok Sabha seats in the Valley and leave the two seats of the Jammu region for the Congress based on the performance shown by the two parties in the 2019 elections. “If Mehboobaji has decided to field her party candidates on all the five seats I can’t stop her,” he told reporters in Srinagar.

The NC insiders say that Mr. Abdullah may himself contest the election on the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat as his father and party president Farooq Abdullah has decided not to join the fray this time because of his failing health. The SeniorAbdullah had won from Srinagar-his home constituency- after defeating his PDP rival Aga Syed Mohsin by over 70,000 votes in 2019. The NC is learnt to be looking for a “suitable” candidate to contest from Baramulla, the third Lok Sabha constituency of the Kashmir Valley.

The NC, apparently eying the Gujjar vote of the Rajouri belt of the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, fielded Mr. Ahmed from here. But with Mr. Azad also joining the fray, the Gujjar vote of the constituency is likely to get divided between the two. The DPAP chose an equally popular Gujjar leader Taj Mohiuddin to announce Mr. Azad’s candidature at a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday which signifies the constituency is set to witness a hardened battle for the Gujjar vote.

There is possibility of the BJP’s supporting Mr. Azad’s candidature or, at least, fielding a political greenhorn from Anantnag-Rajouri to reciprocate the DPAP’s choosing Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, an Azad loyalist but seen by many as a weak candidate for the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat where from Union minister Dr. Jitendra Singh is seeking election for a third time in a triangular contest.

The BJP is also quite confident of winning the vote of Paharis, an ethnic community that has historically been more supportive of the Congress and NC, in all the five J&K Lok Sabha seats in lieu of the Centre’s including it in J&K’s Scheduled Tribes list through legislation. The move made in February had, however, annoyed Gujjars and Bakarwals who comprise about 15 percent of J&K’s population, notwithstanding the Centre’s repeatedly assuring them that the inclusion of Pahari, Paddari, Koli and Gadda Brahmins communities in the list of ST in J&K would have no impact on the current level of reservations available to the existing ST communities and that they would continue to get reservations like before.

Since Gujjar vote can create problems for the BJP, every attempt is being made by the saffron party and its overt and covert allies to divide it by fielding as many official and proxy Gujjar candidates in all those constituencies where it could play a decisive role including Baramulla where from J&K People’s Conference leader and former BJP ally Sajad Gani Lone is seeking election to Lok Sabha.

The J&K watchers say that fragmented opposition may find it difficult to give a tough fight to the BJP and reclaim the Jammu and Udhampur seats from it whereas in the Valley’s three constituencies the consolidation of anti-BJP vote appears to be near impossible with the key faces of the Kashmir politics deciding to fight each other at the hustings.

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