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Amid BJP stunner, Kashmir heads for hung assembly

Amid BJP stunner, Kashmir heads for hung assembly

Srinagar/Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir was Tuesday headed for a hung assembly with the BJP putting up a spectacular show in the Hindu-majority Jammu region and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) proving the leader in the largely Muslim Kashmir Valley.

The National Conference of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was headed for defeat after six years in power along with the Congress, which too was set for a dismal performance, Election Commission officials said.

Abdullah was declared defeated in Sonawar in Srinagar, one of the two constituencies he contested from. He was also trailing from Beerwah in the Kashmir Valley.

Riding on the Narendra Modi wave, Bharatiya Janata Party candidates were declared elected from 11 constituencies and were on the winning track in 15 - all in Jammu region save one in Buddhist-dominated Ladakh.

In contrast, the PDP led by former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Saeed, who won from Anantnag, had bagged 16 seats and was set for victory in 15 -- overwhelmingly in the Kashmir Valley.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted in New Delhi that the BJP -- until now considered a bit player in the country's only Muslim-majority state -- was poised to take power in both Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand.

Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh, a Lok Sabha member from Udhampur in Kashmir, said: "This will be a turning point for BJP and for Jammu and Kashmir politics."

An alliance between the PDP and BJP would give them the numbers needed to form a government in the 87-member assembly but it wasn't immediately clear if they were working towards a post-election partnership.

The National Conference won six seats and was leading in seven, mainly from the Kashmir Valley. The Congress bagged two seats in the valley and was in the lead in nine places -- mostly in Jammu region.

Political sources said the Congress was hoping to team up with the PDP and smaller parties in a bid to trip the BJP.

"As for PDP and National Conference, we have had alliances with them in the past. Let's see what happens," said Congress veteran and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

BJP general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao said the party leadership would meet in New Delhi to take stock of the Kashmir situation.

"More important than winning is the fact that the BJP's acceptability has increased in the state in an exponential way," Rao said.

"What will be important for us (when we decide on alliances) is how to fight terrorism and insurgency... Jammu and Kashmir is not like any other state. We need to see the options available (to us)."

Asked about possible alliances, BJP's Jay Narayan Vyas said: "Politics is always a game of enormous possibilities."

Among the others who could get elected in Kashmir are two candidates of People's Conference led by former separatist Sajad Lone and Marxist leader Yusuf Tarigami.

The BJP's face in the Kashmir Valley, Hina Bhatt, initially led from Amira Kadal in Srinagar but was later edged out by PDP's Altaf Bukhari.

The BJP led by Modi campaigned vigorously in Jammu and Kashmir with a pledge to win 44 seats -- and form a government for the first time in the troubled state.

A total of 48.29 lakh votes are being counted Tuesday.

Most exit polls predicted a hung assembly in Jammu and Kashmir at the end of staggered polling.

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