Srinagar: During the 2014 parliamentary elections, for the first time, Kashmir’s main regional party National Conference was not able to win any of the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir. All the seats were bagged by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which then set the tone for the Assembly polls held in the same year, in which the PDP emerged as the single largest party. The PDP later formed a coalition government in Muslim-majority state with right-wing BJP finishing with disastrous outcomes.
Five years down the line, the PDP is at its lowest ebb in its popularity and it will be an uphill task for the PDP to repeat the 2014 performance in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. The PDP now has other contestants in NC, Congress and Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference, vying for their share & eyeing the three seats - Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag.
PDP which had been showing an upward graph since its formation in 1999 is paying a heavy price for forging an alliance with the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death, a year after PDP formed the government with BJP and later Mehbooba Mufti’s “failure” to handle the situation after the July 2016 killing of militant commander Burhan Wani’s death, and quitting of senior party leaders, dealt a series of blows to the party.
However, with Mehbooba in total command of the party again, she is now going back to the basics. She has fallen back to soft separatism, taking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP and its brand of politics head on over issues especially special status to J&K. While filing her Lok Sabha nomination papers from Anantnag, she even warned that J&K would “secede from India if 35-A is tinkered with” as the BJP leadership has been advocating the removal of Article 35-A, which guarantees and protects the residency rights of the people of J&K and bars outsiders from buying property in J&K.
Mehbooba is now contesting as a parliament candidate from Anantnag- that is spread over four militancy infested districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian. Mehbooba contesting polls is seen as the party’s attempt to regain its south Kashmir bastion and also to test the waters for the Assembly polls, due anytime now; the party has seen the erosion of its support base since the killing of Burhan Wani, in July 2016, that triggered massive civil unrest in Kashmir.
On the other hand, the National Conference is fully geared up and is banking mainly on the PDP’s descending graph due to its alliance with BJP. The party has been vociferously advocating strengthening of special status of J&K and bringing back the autonomy that existed pre-1953. The party Vice President and former CM Omar Abdullah even went a step further by announcing that it will bring back the State’s executive posts of Sadr-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister, which the state once enjoyed. From south Kashmir, it has fielded former High Court judge Justice Hasnain Massodi against Mehbooba.
National Conference heavyweight and party president Farooq Abdullah is contesting from Srinagar Lok Sabah seat and is a strong contender to win the seat. He has vowed to fight against “communalism”.
Farooq, who has thrice served as the state’s Chief Minister and had won the Srinagar parliamentary by-election in 2017, had lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election to PDP’s Tariq Karra.
Srinagar parliamentary constituency, which is spread over three central Kashmir districts, is scheduled to go to poll on April 18 and is likely to see a close contest between National Conference and PDP - the two regional giants and also arch-rivals.
Sajjad Lone’s PC is this time emerging a force to reckon with. In north Kashmir, the party's candidate is former top cop Raja Aijaz Ali and the party sees a bright prospect for him. Lone’s personal influence and voter turnout in his native district Kupwara will determine the fate of Ali in Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, going to polls on April 11. Sajad had got a boost with a top Shia leader and former minister Imran Ansari on his side. Ali's main rivals in Baramulla are PDP's Qayoom Wani and NC's Akbar Lone, both strong contenders, thus making the contest in north Kashmir triangular.
On the other hand, out of three seats in the valley, Congress is struggling and with the party engaged in a “friendly contest” with NC, the party sees a good prospect for at least one of its candidates in south Kashmir, Ghulam Ahmed Mir . A triangular contest is all set to take place in Anantnag Lok Sabha seat.
The four districts of South Kashmir, will go to polls in three phases indicating the situation on the ground. South Kashmir has been the epicentre of present turmoil and has been on edge ever since killing of Burhan.
Mehbooba had won from the Anantnag parliamentary seat in 2014 but vacated it in 2016 after her father’s death so that she could take over the reins of the state. No by-election could be held in Anantnag as the Election Commission didn’t find the situation in the constituency conducive for polls.
The polls are being held at a time when the alienation is at its all time high in Kashmir. The J&K government had acted tough against the separatists. It had already arrested JKLF chief Yasin Malik who is a key member of “Joint Resistance Leadership” and also banned his group and Jama'at-e-Islami. So far hardline Huriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani had called for a poll boycott.
The Lok Sabah polls this time will also set the tune for Assembly polls, which can take place any time as the state is currently under President's Rule.