Omar breaks the ice with first election rally in Anantnag
Lukewarm Congress may send Raj Babbar, Azharuddin for campaigning; Mehbooba planning first rally on June 18
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
ANANTNAG, June 16: With just four days of campaigning left in Anantnag, where Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is contesting the by-election to become a member of Legislative Assembly, National Conference acting President Omar Abdullah broke the ice on Thursday while holding his party’s first rallies in Kehribal and Krangsu. No political party or a contesting candidate has held a rally here since the day by-elections were announced last month.
In addition to winning the Lok Sabha elections from South Kashmir in 2004 and 2014, both times defeating NC’s Dr Mehboob Beg who is now PDP’s chief spokesperson, Mehbooba has become MLA three times in her 20-year-long political career---from Bijbehara, Pahalgam and Wachi. She is now contesting her first Assembly election from Anantnag, vacated by the death of her father and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in January this year.
Last week, Mehbooba held a whirlwind tour of 18 villages in the constituency. According to the official figures 50 to 200 people gathered at different spots on the road to listen to her. It was her first appearance for canvassing. Sources close to her revealed to STATE TIMES that Ms Mufti would hold a major rally at a local stadium on June 18th.
Not that PDP has left the field vacant. The party stalwarts, Mehbooba’s maternal uncle Sartaj Madni and Minister of R&B Abdul Rehman Veeri, whose attendance in the Assembly’s current session has been minimal, have been holding the fort. Minister of Law Abdul Haq Khan and Minister of Finance Haseeb Drabu came here twice to boost the campaign. PDP Youth Wing president Waheed-ur-Rehman Para too has been camping here since last fortnight.
“Most of the people are busy with paddy plantation. Besides, these are the days of Ramzan when people attend their religious duties more than politics. Two militant attacks at Bijbehara and Anantnag on June 3rd and 4th have also caused some fear. That’s why we have decided to just carry on our door-to-door campaigning. We call local representatives and men of influence and explain to them why Mehboobaji’s victory is significant not only for PDP and Anantnag but also for the whole State”, said a senior PDP leader. According to him, it was going to be a “cakewalk victory” for the Chief Minister.
Insiders though are not satisfied with the way of Mehbooba’s campaigning. They narrated how late Mufti Sayeed would hold an amazing rapport and call frequently 62 select men to seek their opinion and keep them charged for the party activity. “Madam’s liaison with the party workers has been remarkably limited after her father’s death”, said a local PDP leader, wishing to be anonymous.
NC has entrusted the campaign to a team of leaders which includes former Minister Sakeena Itoo, Kashmir Provincial President Nasir Aslam Wani, MLC Dr Bashir Veeri, MLAs Altaf Kaloo and Abdul Majid Larmi besides a local NC leader Dr Rafeeq Kochak and the candidate Iftikhar Hassan Misgar. They too are running a “door-to-door campaign”. NC’s biggest propaganda against PDP is that it “ditched” the people who had given it mandate in 2014 to keep BJP-RSS combine away from power. NC’s leaders play it up that PDP had formed the Government in coalition with RSS-backed BJP and that it was “furthering the Hindutva outfits’ communal and divisive agenda”.
“People of Anantnag are politically mature. They know that voting for PDP is voting for BJP, RSS and VHP. Had PDP not been part and parcel of BJP and RSS, it had no match in Anantnag as our candidate was a non-entity. Both, NC as well as Congress, have started alleging that Chief Minister was using her official machinery to ensure her victory. In Assembly, Congress leader Nawang Rigzin Jora today complained that excess cash of Ashajipora branch of J&K Bank and treasury worth Rs 58 lakh had been seized by Police. He alleged that it was part of the money to be used for changing the result in favour of PDP.
Government clarified that it was routine transition of excess cash from a branch to the District Treasury and that Returning Officer had examined the complaint, found it baseless and released the amount in favour of the District Treasury. Another major allegation from NC and Congress is that SSP Anantnag has kept around 1500 SPOs in civvies ready and they would be used for bogus voting in the low-turnout areas. Officials dismiss it as a routine election time allegation.
Official figures said that 900 people attended Omar’s rally at Ranbirpora (Kehribal) and 800 at Krangsu. However, NC leaders insist that over 2,000 was the gathering at each place.
Even as nobody, not even the J&K stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad, would come from AICC headquarters to add some colour to the insipid campaigning, well-placed political sources revealed to this newspaper that Congress high command could depute Bollywood actor Raj Babbar and cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin to address a rally in Anantnag on June 20th.
In the low-turnout election, Mehbooba is facing a considerable threat from Hilal Ahmad Shah of Congress, who secured around 11,000 votes against late Mufti’s 16,000 in 2014. However, factional rivalry within Congress could prove to be the biggest advantage for Mehbooba.
An Azad loyalist Manzoor Ahmad Ganai, who contested on Congress ticket in 2008, is known to be canvassing against the official candidate. There are similar credible reports about District Kulgam President Inayatullah Rather, senior Congress leader and brother of one-time Prime Minister of J&K Shams-ud-din, Advocate Abdul Majid Khateeb, District General Secretary Ghulam Mohiuddin Rishi, MLA Mohammad Amin Bhat and some others who are overtly and covertly campaigning against their own party candidate. None of them reportedly has an issue with the candidate Hilal Ahmad Shah. All these rebels are working silently for the PDP candidate.
Sources said that a number of Congress bigwigs have joined hands to ensure defeat of Shah as it would come as the biggest setback for Ghulam Ahmad Mir, President JKPCC. “Hilal is Mr nobody. If he wins it will be feather in the cap of Ghulam Ahmad Mir. On the other hand, if he loses, it would be a jolt for Mir who could be forced to step down and clear the field for some other leader as JKPCC chief”, said a middle-rung Congress leader.