After PDP joins electoral fray, all eyes are on BJP’s choice of candidate for Anantnag-Rajouri seat

Srinagar, April 4 (IANS) After former J&K Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti announced to field the candidates for the the Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir Valley, the most interesting contest is going to be in the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency.

With 18,30,294 voters including 93,0379 male, 89,9888 female and 27 third gender, the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency is the only Lok Sabha constituency in J&K that is spread on both the Jammu division and the Valley.

The Election Commission (EC) is setting up 2,338 polling stations, 225 in urban areas and 2,113 in rural areas for the voters of this constituency.

Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu division, and Anantnag and Kulgam districts in the Valley, are the voting segments of the constituency.

The voters including the Kashmiri-speaking Muslims of the Valley, the Gujjar/Bakarwal Muslims of Poonch and Rajouri in addition to large numbers of the Pahari community and Hindus in the latter two districts.

Diverse topography, different vocations and priorities make the voters of this constituency as diverse as their likely voting preferences.

The constituency is presently represented by Justice (Retired) Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference (NC).

After the districts of Rajouri and Poonch were made voting segments of this constituency during the fresh delimitation of constituencies, the NC has decided not to field its sitting candidate.

Instead, the senior Gujjar/Bakarwal religious and political leader, Mian Altaf Ahmad has been nominated by the NC as its candidate for the Anantnag-Rajouri seat.

Given his stature and respect among the Gujjar/Bakarwal community, Mian’s choice as the NC candidate was a foregone conclusion.

Yet, the decision of Mehbooba Mufti to field a PDP candidate in this constituency has added a twist to the tail for the NC.

PDP insiders say that Mufti will fight the Lok Sabha elections herself from this constituency.

She belongs to Bijbehara town of Anantnag district which is her ancestral home.

Her late father and former Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed belonged to Bijbehara. Anantnag district in particular and other south Kashmir districts in general have been seen as traditional strongholds of the PDP.

This is true, despite Mufti’s defeat at the hands of the NC candidate in the 2019 general elections.

Former senior Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who formed his own political party, the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP), is also fighting elections from this constituency.

A natural outcome of Mehbooba Mufti’s decision to join the electoral battle in this constituency is the PDP’s direct confrontation with the NC.

Azad is not a political force to reckon with in this constituency and yet as a former senior Congress leader, he is likely to get a fairly good number of votes.

Without hazarding a guess on winners and losers, the fact remains that the NC, PDP and the DPAP will cut into each other’s vote bank.

After the abrogation of Article 370 and downgrading of J&K into a union territory, it is naive to talk of unflinching voter support to any of these three political parties in the constituency.

Voters have different considerations and priorities, with peace, development, education, healthcare and employment being the real voter priorities now.

The BJP is yet to announce its candidate for this constituency. There is little doubt that the BJP has a large number of Pahari community support in Poonch and Rajouri, especially after the grant of ST status to this community.

BJP has made inroads in many parts of Anantnag and Kulgam districts, but its major chunk of votes is likely to come from across the Pir Panjal mountain range in Poonch and Rajouri districts.

The key to BJP giving its rivals a tough time and formidable challenge lies in the party’s choice of candidate for the constituency.

There are reports that the party is seriously considering the name of a serving IAS officer belonging to the Poonch district. The other name doing the rounds as the BJP candidate is the party’s J&K unit president, Ravinder Raina.

It is generally believed that if the BJP chooses an ST candidate for the constituency, the party will give its rivals a run for their life.

The constituency goes to vote on May 7 and all contesting parties are preparing to give their best shot to the elections in this constituency because the winner would have proved public support in both the divisions of the UT.

–IANS

sq/dan

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