J&K Congress chief confident of Hilal’s victory, says Anantnag is not a fixed match
Mehbooba kick-starts campaign with a series of road shows; seeks vote for development, governance
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
ANANTNAG, Jun 12: Unprecedented enthusiasm among the electorate that marked the Assembly elections in 2014 is altogether missing. By Saturday afternoon, Anantnag did not appear to be a constituency going to polls in 10 days. On June 22, PDP’s President, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s political successor and Lok Sabha member from South Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti will be seeking peoples’ mandate to her Chief Ministership and PDP’s coalition with BJP---the party she assailed the most in 2014. Having assumed office on April 4, two months after her father’s death on January 7, the 56-year-old maverick is supposed to be elected to Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council within six months.
In the last 20 years of her political career, Mehbooba has been returned three times as MLA and two times as a member of Lok Sabha. She has not lost an election. Six of her rivals in the fray today, including National Conference candidate Iftikhar Hassan Misgar, have just insignificant political profile. The only challenge comes from a novice Hilal Ahmad Shah who secured a surprising 11,000 votes against late Mufti’s 16,000 in 2014. He has been repeated by the Congress.
Officials as well as residents insisted that no political party has been able to hold a rally for any candidate since the elections were announced last month. Two militant strikes in Bijbehara and Anantnag on June 3 and 4, which left three BSF men and two J&K Police personnel dead, are thought to be the biggest dampener. Residents insist that there are other factors as well.
“They are holding this election with no application of mind”, said teacher Ghulam Rasool Mir at Harnag. “First they announced the elections without knowledge of the state government. In a couple of days, Chief Secretary and DGP rushed to Delhi and convinced Election Commission of India that the elections were not possible in Anantnag due to a hostile atmosphere. Election announcement was withdrawn. Suddenly, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah challenged the cancellation. Then ECI announced the election afresh. Holding election in the month of Ramzan, parallel to the Assembly’s Budget session proceedings and the season of plantation of the paddy seedlings is in no way justified. Even the date of polling had been fixed as June 19---assassination anniversary of the Mirwaiz of South Kashmir Qazi Nisar Ahmad. It was later changed to June 22”, Mir elaborated.
With most of the voters having lost their interest in the Indian elections after the bitter rivals PDP and BJP cobbled a coalition in total reversal of their 2014-slogans, Anantnag is calm and composed. The polling being just 10 days away, Mehbooba wended her way through the constituency. She addressed motley wayside gatherings at KP Chowk, Batpora, Seepan, Mirgund, Chhee, Anchidora, Pragashpora, Anzwala, Wantarang, Kehribal, Shalpora, Rampora, Puhru, Mattan Adda, Achabal Adda, Baginder, Mirdantar, Hajidantar, Poshwara, Muniward and Takia Bal.
Until the other day, a remembrance meeting at Sarnal, residence of PDP’s chief spokesperson Dr Mehboob Beg on outskirts of Anantnag town, appeared to be the only evidence of mainstream political presence. Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee chief and former Tourism Minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir chose the same neighbourhood for what he calls the first election rally. It was no match to the rallies of Congress and PDP witnessed here in 2014.
While speaking to STATE TIMES, Mir sought to dispel the impression that the by-election in Anantnag was a “fixed match” only to complete the formality of the Chief Minister’s election as a member of Legislative Assembly. “Even in 2014, electioneering picked up here towards the end. That time too, it was Congress that broke the ice. Today also, we alone have carried out door-to-door campaign in several areas. Next week, we are planning to hold massive rallies”, Mir asserted. He, as well as the party’s candidate, Hilal Shah, sounded confident of a victory “if the Government lets this election happen cleanly and without interventions of the official machinery”.
Mir alleged that the PDP and its Government had mobilised “entire official machinery” to influence the voters. According to them hundreds of works are currently going on in Anantnag segment in total violation of the moral code of conduct. “Seventy percent of these works are without tenders and proper allotment. JCBs and macadam engines are at work at several places even as no work is going on in other constituencies all over the Valley. But we are not complaining against it as we do not want the voters to lose this dose of special development”, Mir said.
“The voters in Anantnag are very sensitive and conscious. Even those who may like to vote for Mehboobaji’s development and governance promises would not vote for her this time as they know it will be their vote for BJP and RSS which are not acceptable to anybody in Kashmir”, Mir added. He said he and Hilal Shah were finding it far easier than in 2014 to convince the voters today with the advantage of PDP’s coalition and pre-poll alliance with RSS-backed BJP. “In 2014, it was a completely different situation. Mehbooba Ji and Mufti Sahab were seeking vote only to keep BJP and RSS away from grabbing power in J&K. Poor attendance in late Mufti’s funeral was the first evidence of the peoples’ disapproval to PDP’s cheating with the voters and forging a coalition with BJP and RSS”, he argued.
“Yes, they have the advantage of holding the Government today. That time, voters did not know who would become Chief Minister and which would be the ruling party. Today, the Government is with them and she is the Chief Minister”, Mir added.