High stakes for NC, PDP in Saturday’s Kashmir polls (Curtain Raiser)

December 11th, 2008 - 7:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartySrinagar, Dec 11 (IANS) A battle is expected mainly between the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the fifth phase of polling scheduled for Saturday in Jammu and Kashmir that would decide the fate of, among others, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.Six constituencies in Pulwama and Shopian districts in the Kashmir Valley and five constituencies of Kathua district in Jammu division go to polls Saturday.

The six constituencies in the Valley are Tral, Pampore, Pulwama and Rajpora of Pulwama district in south Kashmir and Wachi and Shopian of Shopian district. The five constituencies in Jamu region are: Kathua, Hira Nagar, Basholi, Bani, Billawar in Kathua district.

There are 179 candidates in the fray - 73 in Pulwama district, 40 in Shopian district and 66 candidates in Kathua.

Shopian and Tral have 21 candidates each, the maximum number of contestants for any constituency going to polls Saturday.

Besides the NC and PDP, the two major political parties of Jammu and Kashmir, the others in the fray are the Congress, the Panthers’ Party, the Awami National Conference (ANC), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party of India (CPI), besides some Independents or unattached contestants.

Pulwama and Shopian districts are considered strongholds of the PDP. NC leaders have been campaigning aggressively against the PDP in south Kashmir targeting mainly PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and her father, former chief minister and party patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

All eyes are on the Wachi constituency from where Mehbooba Mufti is pitched against Muhammad Khalil Naik (CPI-M), who is seeking re-election, and Showkat Ahmad (NC). Though there are 17 other candidates, the contest in expected to be mainly among the three.

In the Shopian constituency, Abdul Razak (PDP), Shabir Ahmad (NC) and Gulam Hassan Khan, an Independent, are the main contestants. Gulshana Parveen of the Samajwadi Party is also contesting there.

Khan had won the seat in 2002 elections on PDP ticket, but this time he is fighting as an independent after being denied the PDP mandate by the party high command.

In Tral, Gulam Nabi Bhat, who won the seat in 2002 as an NC candidate, is pitted against his younger brother Muhammad Ashraf Bhat as the party decided on a change and Mushtaq Ahmad Shah (PDP).

In Pulwama, Muhammad Khalil Band (PDP) is seeking re-election and his main rivals will be G.N. Ratanpuri (NC) though 17 other parties and independents are also in the fray there. Prominent among the independents are two former ministers, Bashir Ahmad Nengroo and Sonaullah Dar.

Zahoor Ahmad Mir (PDP) is seeking re-election from Pampore and other contenstants are Gulam Nabi Mir (NC) and 13 others.

In Rajpora, Syed Bashir (PDP) is seeking re-election and his main rival is G.N. Wani (NC).

As campaigning ended, BJP national president Rajnath Singh, Congress leader Karan Singh and Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh held rallies in different parts of Kathua district.

They exhorted voters to vote for their parties to “defeat terrorism” and for better development of the state.

Rajnath Singh told a huge gathering in Kathua, “The Congress is spineless when it comes to fighting terrorism. This has been amply exhibited in the terror attacks in Mumbai and its muted response,” he said, while reiterating his party’s “commitment to score a decisive victory over terrorism”.

Karan Singh, who has following in the mountainous belt of Kathua as the son of the last Dogra king Maharaja Hari Singh, rebuffed the charges of BJP, pointing toward the defeat the party suffered in Rajasthan and Delhi.

“They cannot befool the people in the name of fighting terrorism alone. There are other issues and Congress has addressed all the issues,” he said.

Mehbooba Mufti has shifted to the third constituency since 1996 when she entered politics. She first contested polls from Bijbehra constituency, then shifted to Pahalgam in 2002 and now is testing the waters in Wachi.

South Kashmir’s 16 constituencies in the four districts of Anatnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama are considered as stronghold of the PDP. The National Conference had won only two seats, so had the CPI-M and Congress. Rest of the 10 seats were won by PDP.

In Kathua district, Congress had won three seats - Bani, Basholi and Hira Nagar. The other two were won by independents.

There are 838,953 voters in the 11 constituencies, of these 406,331 are in five constituencies of Kathua, followed by 293,127 for four constituencies of Pulwama and 139,127 for two constituencies of Shopian district.

Kathua constituency has the highest of 111,546 voters, while the lowest of 68,403 is in Wachi.

There are 58 independents and five women among the contestants.

As many as 2,93,127 people in Pulwama district and 1,39,495 in in Shopian district are eligible to vote.

While Pulwama has 398 polling booths, of which 116 are declared hyper-sensitive and 272 sensitive, Shopian district has 181 polling stations - 169 hyper-sensitive and 12 sensitive.

Though separatist leaders have called for a boycott of the elections, the four of the seven phases have seen more than 60 percent polling.

“Adequate arrangements of security have been made for Saturday’s polls. Nobody would be allowed to interfere with the democratic rights of the voters who come to exercise their franchise,” a senior police officer said.

A poll official said all electronic voting machines (EVMs), poll material and poll staff are in place and ready for Saturday’s voting.

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