National Conference, PDP will slug it out in Srinagar (Curtainraiser -Kashmir)May 6th, 2009 - 10:42 am ICT by IANS
By F. Ahmed
Srinagar, May 6 (IANS) This prestigious Lok Sabha constituency in the Kashmir valley goes to the polls Thursday amid boycott calls by separatists and armed insurgents and will see the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) take on the ruling National Conference.
Spread over 15 assembly segments in the three districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Badgam, the constituency has over 1.1 million voters who will decide the fate of 12 contestants here.
The main contest is between National Conference patron and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and PDP candidate Maulvi Ifftekhar Hussain Ansari, a powerful Shia leader in the valley.
The authorities have set up 1,466 polling stations in the constituency which will be secured by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the local police. Thursday will be the fourth phase of Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir.
Traditionally, this seat has been the political stronghold of the National Conference.
In 2004, the seat was won by Farooq Abdullah’s son and current Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who defeated PDP candidate and lawyer Gulam Nabi Lone. Omar Abdullah won by 23,169 votes.
The total poll percentage in 2004 in Srinagar, the urban hub of the Muslim separatist campaign, was 18.57 percent.
In the December 2008 assembly elections, out of the 15 assembly seats, the National Conference won 12 and the PDP two while one seat went to an independent candidate.
All the eight assembly seats from Srinagar district and both the seats from Ganderbal district were won by the National Conference while the PDP and the National Conference won two seats each from Badgam district.
Farooq Abdullah’s elder sister Khalida Shah, the wife of former chief minister Ghulam Muhammad Shah, is also in the fray on the Awami National Conference ticket.
The Sonawar assembly constituency goes to the polls in a by-election Thursday as the seat was vacated by Farooq Abdullah this year to fight the Rajya Sabha elections. He had won the seat in the 2008 assembly elections.
The contest for the Sonawar seat is mainly between Muhammad Yasin Shah of the National Conference and Muhammad Ashraf Mir of the PDP. This contest is going to be close as the National Conference had won the seat in December by less than 100 votes.
Devolution of power from the centre to the state, employment for thousands of unemployed youths, better roads, education and infrastructure development have been the main campaign issues though the traditional rivalry between the Abdullahs of the National Conference and the Muftis of the PDP have dominated public meetings in the Srinagar constituency.
The separatist Hurriyat groups headed by hardliner Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq as also various armed groups have called for an election boycott.
Strongholds of the Mirwaiz in the old city areas have witnessed anti-poll protests, which have often turned violent, giving a tough time to the security forces.
Although there are dominant Shia pockets in the constituency which are likely to vote for Ifftekhar Hussain Ansari, it is generally believed that Abdullah is a formidable candidate defeating whom on his home turf would be extremely difficult.
This is the second constituency in the Kashmir valley to see polling. Balloting took place in Anantnag April 30. Jammu and Kashmir has six parliamentary constituencies.
(F. Ahmed can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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