Campaign for fourth phase Jammu and Kashmir poll ends

December 5th, 2008 - 7:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu/Srinagar, Dec 5 (IANS) Campaigning ended Friday in the 18 constituencies of Jammu and Kashmir going to polls in the fourth phase of assembly elections in the state Sunday. The polls to elect an 87-member house have been staggered in seven phases. There are over 1.4 million eligible voters who will have a choice of 257 candidates in 12 constituencies in the Kashmir Valley and six in Jammu region.

There are 902,951 voters in the Valley and 498,000 in Jammu. As many as 176 candidates are trying their luck in the valley and 81 in the Jammu region.

The campaign centred around development issues in the Jammu region. But in the Valley, where as many as 13 ministers are contesting, the rivals focused on their performance and the former were busy defending themselves.

With a large number of contestants, the fourth phase of polling promises a keen battle.

In Jammu, for instance, three constituencies each of Reasi and Udhampur districts have thrown up a multi-cornered contest giving sleepless nights to many a veteran and confident candidate.

Reasi was carved out of the erstwhile Udhampur district last year, when the number of districts in state was increased from 14 to 22.

There are 283,000 people in the Hindu-dominated Udhampur district eligible to vote in Udhampur, Chenani and Ramnagar constituencies. The Ramnagar seat is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates.

National Panthers Party (NPP) had won all the three seats in the 2002 assembly elections. “But going is very tough for the NPP,” observed Rajeev Gupta, a business leader in Udhampur.

Of the total 42 candidates in fray here, 18 are in Udhampur constituency and 12 each in Chenani and Ramnagar. With many independents, the contest has become multi-cornered.

The sitting legislators of the Panthers Party Harshdev Singh (Ramnagar), who was a minister in the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government, Balwant Singh Mankotia (Udhampur) and Faqir Nath (Chenani) are facing tough competition from the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), besides independents.

Minish Gulati, an educationist in Udhampur, told IANS that this election promised a keen contest between the Congress, the BJP and the BSP.

He said: “The best thing this time is that the people in this area are dictating the manifesto and the issues to candidates.”

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had addressed an election rally in Udhampur during his maiden visit to the state. “It was a very unimpressive rally where he could not deliver any message,” said Gupta.

He, however, said the developmental works taken up by “Ghulam Nabi Azad as chief minister were unprecedented despite many constraints in the coalition government.”

People feel that with its focused campaign, the BSP had emerged as a force to reckon with in all the three constituencies in the district.

This phase will cover the Hindu majority pockets of Jammu district and it is unclear if the Amarnath land row would impact the voting pattern.

Rajeev Sharma, a retired government employee, feels: “People have become intelligent and aware enough to distinguish between politics and religion. Religious emotion is one thing and voting is another. It will not effect voting here.” But Gulati says the votes may get “polarised over this issue.”

In the newly carved out Reasi district, 39 candidates are in fray in the Reasi, Arnas and Gulabgarh constituencies. There are 215,000 voters here.

Former minister Jugal Kumar Sharma of the Congress is seeking a re-election from Reasi and faces the BJP and the BSP candidates, while two other constituencies in Reasi also have the incumbents locked in keen contests between the National Conference, the Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.

Reasi was won by the Congress in the 2002 elections, while Arnas went to an independent and Gulabgarh to National Conference. The turnout was over 60 percent in these constituencies in the previous polls.

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