PDP versus NC in Kashmir, Congress vs BJP in Jammu (Lead, Curtain Raiser)December 11th, 2008 - 11:13 pm ICT by IANS
Srinagar, Dec 11 (IANS) Eleven constituencies across Jammu and Kashmir go to vote Saturday in the fifth phase of the staggered seven-phase assembly elections in the state. The fight is expected to be mainly between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC) in the Valley and between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in the Jammu region.People in six constituencies in Pulwama and Shopian districts of the Valley and five in Kathua district of the Jammu region will elect their representatives to the 87-member assembly.
In all, 838,953 people are eligible to vote in the Pampore, Tral, Pulwama, Rajpora, Wachi and Shopian constituencies of the Kashmir Valley and in the Bani, Basohli, Kathua, Billawar and Hiranagar constituencies of the Jammu region.
There are 179 candidates in the fray - 73 in Pulwama district, 40 in Shopian district and 66 candidates in Kathua. These include five women.
Pulwana district has 398 polling stations, of which 116 have been declared as hyper-sensitive and 272 as sensitive.
Shopian district has 181 polling stations - 169 hyper-sensitive and 12 sensitive.
Pulwama and Shopian in South Kashmir are considered strongholds of the PDP whose president and parliament member Mehbooba Mufti is contesting elections from Wachi.
In 2002 elections, Muhammad Khalil Naik of the CPI-M won from Wachi and is now seeking re-election from there. A contest is expected among the two and Showkat Ahmad of the National Conference, though there are 17 other candidates.
The Shopian and Tral constituencies have 21 candidates each, the maximum number of contestants for any constituency going to polls Saturday.
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 won the seat in 2002 elections on a PDP ticket, but this time he is contesting 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 rival will be G.N. Ratanpuri (NC). 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).
While the NC and the PDP engage in hectic campaigning against each other in south Kashmir, the Congress and the BJP are taking each other head on in the five constituencies of Jammu region.
BJP president Rajnath Singh, senior Congress leader and former regent of the state Karan Singh and Bhim Singh of the Panthers’ Party addressed rallies and poll meetings Thursday in Kathua district as the poll campaign came to an end.
In the 2002 elections, the Congress won the Bani, Basohli and Hiranagar seats while Kathua and Billawar went to Independents.
In Bani, Prem Sagar of the Congress is seeking re-election and is challenged mainly by Lal Chand (BJP) and Gulam Hyder Malik (NC).
In Bilawar, Manohar Lal Sharma (Congress) faces a serious challenge from Satish Sharma (BJP) and Sanjeev Khajuria (Romy) of NC.
In Basohli, Kanta Andotra (Congress), wife of senior Congress leader and MP Lal Singh, is seeking re-election against Jagdish Raj Sapolia (BJP) and Davender Singh (NC).
In Hiranagar, Girdhari Lal (Congress) is seeking re-election, pitted against Durga Dass (BJP) and Daram Paul (NC).
In Kathua constituency, Lal Singh of the Congress is fighting against Sen Das (BJP), but rebel Congress leader and former minister Babu Singh is also contesting as an Independent.
Though Kashmiri 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 for 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.