SRINAGAR Anantnag, one of the four districts forming Parliamentary seat from volatile South Kashmir, is going to the polls amid strict security measures on Tuesday.
For the first time in the poll history of India, the Election Commission split polling into three phases for the one Lok Sabha seat. While Anantnag district vote on April 23, Kulgam district will go to polls on April 29 and Shopian-Pulwama districts on May 6.
The security situation has been grim in the south Kashmir and as per statistics, over 80% of the people killed so far this year, were from Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian and Anantnag districts falling within the Lok Sabha constituency. The numbers include 22 civilians, 87 security personnel and 66 militants, including several commanders.
More than 100 additional companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have been deployed to augment an already existing large contingent of state police and CAPF personnel deployed on poll duty in this constituency.
Because of the serious security challenges in the constituency, by-poll could not be held in Anantnag after Mehbooba Mufti, President of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), resigned the seat in 2016 to become the state’s Chief Minister following the death of her father, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.
In the last four years, a large number of local youth, majority of them well-educated and belonging to upper middle class families, have joined militant ranks in the four districts of Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama.
The problems for the security personnel have been compounded by stone pelting at armed forces during security operations against holed up militants, thousands of mourners turning out to attend funerals of slain militants and the failure of the mainstream politicians to move out even in areas from where they were voted to the state Assembly in 2014.
Due to security issues, the voting process here would be held between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., instead of the 6 p.m. deadline observed in the other constituencies of the state.
Among others, the main contest remains among PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir and Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi of National Conference.
A 57-year-old lawyer Shams Khwaja, hailing from Gautam Budh Nagar of Uttar Pradesh is in contest from the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat which would go to polls district-wise in three phases on April 23, 29 and May 6 due to security concerns. Khwajas nomination as an Independent candidate was contested by rival candidates before the District Electoral Officer on the ground that his name was not in electoral rolls of the constituency. However, he managed to convince his opponents and officials that in parliamentary elections any Indian citizen can contest from anywhere, including J&K.
The other candidates in the fray are Sofi Yousuf of Bhartiya Janta Party, Nisar Ahmad Wani of Jammu & Kashmir National Panthers Party, Ch. Zaffar Ali of Jammu Kashmir Peoples Conference, Sanjay Kumar Dhar of Manav Adhikar Party, Surinder Singh of Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) and Imtiyaz Ahmad Rather, Ridwana Sanam, Riyaz Ahmad Bhat, Zubair Masoodi, Ali Mohammad Wani, Gh Mohammad Wani, Kyasir Ahmed Sheikh, Manzoor Ahmad Khan and Mirza Sajad Hussain Beigh, all independents.
Out of the 16 Assembly segments under the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, the PDP had won 11, Congress 2, NC 2 and CPI-M 1 in the 2014 Assembly elections.
Given these statistics, Mufti’s victory may look like a cakewalk, but the ground situation has undergone a sea change since 2014.
The failed ruling alliance between the PDP and the BJP in the state has hit the former’s prospects in Anantnag as it has done in the rest of the Muslim majority Valley.
Mufti has taken a huge gamble by deciding to fight the Lok Sabha polls from here. Her victory or defeat would seriously impact the prospects of her party in the state Assembly elections likely to be held later this year.
Her problems have been compounded by Mir throwing his hat in the electoral arena. Mir has committed vote banks in Dooru, Shangus, Kokernag and Devsar segments.
While it is expected that the voter turnout would be good in these segments, there is a possibility of thin voter turnout in the segments where the PDP believes its vote banks exist.
Given this reality, the final result could see a photo finish between Mir and Mufti.
Poll campaign by different parties here has been generally muted because of security constraints.
How many voters come out to vote on Tuesday would be keenly watched. But no matter what, the security forces will have their tasks cut out to ensure that polling is conducted smoothly in this volatile constituency.
The District is spread over 6 Assembly segments comprising Anantnag, Dooru, Kokernag, Shangus, Bijbehara and Pahalgam. Anantnag District has 529256 electors including 269603 males, 257540 females, 2102 service electors (2091 male and 11 female) and 11 transgender voters. For smooth polling, the ECI has setup 714 polling stations in the district.
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