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Friday, March 17, 2017

Farooq, Ahmad Mir to be opposition’s joint candidates in Kashmir

NC-Congress stitch alliance for Srinagar, Anantnag Lok Sabha seats; Tassaduq Mufti, Nazir Khan are PDP’s candidates

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


JAMMU, Mar 14: With the Election Commission of India on Tuesday issuing notification for by-election in the Central Kashmir Lok Sabha seat, principal opposition parties National Conference (NC) and Congress have decided to contest jointly in order to defeat the ruling PDP candidates in both the seats of Srinagar and Anantnag.

Both the opposition parties on Tuesday held separate meetings before cobbling an alliance at a joint meeting held secretly at a private residential house in Rajbagh area of Srinagar. While as the NC team comprised General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar and former Ministers Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, Sakeena Itoo and Nasir Aslam Wani, the Congress party was represented by the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee president Ghulam Ahmad Mir, former Minister Taj Mohiuddin besides MLA Devsar Mohammad Amin Bhat and MLA Sopore Haji Abdul Rashid.

Well-placed political sources revealed to STATE TIMES that later in the afternoon, Ghulam Ahmad Mir drove straight to the NC patron Dr Farooq Abdullah’s Gupkar Road residence where he held a closed-door meeting with him. It was also joined by NC’s acting president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

The most significant development of the day, according to sources, was that the two parties’ top brass decided to contest the by-election jointly on both the seats. Notwithstanding the NC patron’s reluctance, it was decided that Dr Farooq Abdullah would be the two parties’ joint candidate from Srinagar while as Ghulam Ahmad Mir would be the alliance’s candidate in Anantnag.

Polling is scheduled to be held for the Central Kashmir seat, comprising 15 Assembly segments of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal districts, on April 9. In the South Kashmir constituency, comprising 16 Assembly segments of Anantnag, Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian districts, polling would be held on April 12. The interim election has become necessary when PDP’s South Kashmir Lok Sabha member Mehbooba Mufti took over as Chief Minister following her father Mufti Mohammad’s death and the Central Kashmir Lok Sabha member Tariq Hamid Karra quit the PDP for what he called “brutality” of security forces, both in 2016.

Earlier on Tuesday, NC’s Core Group meeting was convened at Dr Abdullah’s residence. It was attended by Dr Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Abdul Rahim Rather, Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Mohammad Akbar Lone, Sakeena Itoo and Khalid Najeeb Suharwardi. Only one member, namely Surjit Singh Salathia, was absent.

According to sources, Dr Abdullah expressed reluctance to contest the elections, arguing that he was now too old to run from one segment to another and was also not in the best of his health. He proposed that someone young like the party’s familiar spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu or Salman Sagar must be fielded against PDP’s green horn Nazir Ahmad Khan from Central Kashmir. However, most of the Core Group members insisted that none other than Dr Abdullah should be the party’s candidate. Their second favourite was senior leader Abdul Rahim Rather.

Leaders present in the meeting maintained that “nothing” was decided. They said that it was left to Dr Abdullah to decide whether NC should go it alone or form an alliance or seat-sharing with Congress. Selection of the candidates, as usual, was also left to Dr Abdullah. However, subsequent developments led to cobbling of an alliance between the two parties which in a coalition ruled the State from 2009 to 2014 but contested the Assembly elections of 2008 and 2014 independently.

“It was almost decided that NC’s Dr Abdullah would be the alliance’s candidate in Central Kashmir and the Congress State chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir would be the joint candidate in South Kashmir. However, an announcement could be made at a press conference in Srinagar tomorrow”, said a senior political source privy to the day’s developments. He said that J&KPCC had previously submitted a panel of three names —Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed and MLA Shangus Gulzar Ahmad Wani —to the AICC high command.

Late on Monday evening, PDP’s Political Affairs Committee selected Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s brother Tassaduq Mufti as the ruling coalition’s candidate in South Kashmir. A fresh entrant, Nazir Ahmad Khan, who lately shifted from Congress to PDP and gave a tough contest to NC’s Omar Abdullah in Beerwah segment in 2014, would be the PDP-BJP alliance’s candidate in Central Kashmir.

In the general Lok Sabha elections of 2014, PDP had contested independently and bagged all the three seats in Kashmir. Later, in the Assembly elections in 2014, PDP and NC had won 7 seats each in Central Kashmir while as an independent candidate, PDF chairman Hakeem Mohammad Yasin had been returned from Khansahab. In South Kashmir, PDP had bagged 11 seats while as NC and Congress had won 2 seats each. CPI(M) State Secretary Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami had been returned for the fourth consecutive term from Kulgam. Even as they have yet to announce their decision, both Yasin and Tarigami are likely to support the NC-Congress candidates in the current election.



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