Fighting his “last” election, Farooq Abdullah is facing challenge from political greenhorns on prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency which goes to polls on April 18.
While PDP’s Aga Syed Mohsin has struggled on Valley’s political landscape after making his debut over a decade ago, Peoples Conference’s Irfan Raza Ansari and BJP’s Khalid Jehnagir are contesting their maiden electoral battles.
At 83, Abdullah has, however, dominated the poll campaigning in the central Kashmir seat with his
high pitch statements, scathing attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his alleged “politics of division” and taking on his regional political opponents, PDP and PC, for “making way for BJP’s entry into Kashmir”.
In his political career spanning over four decades, Abdullah has lost only once when Tariq Hameed Karra (then with PDP) proved to be the giant-slayer, defeating the senior Abdullah from Srinagar, considered to be NC’s bastion, in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
When Karra resigned from the PDP and Parliament in 2016, over civilian killings, necessitating by-elections to the seat, Abdullah wrested control of the constituency, but the election was marred by civilian killings and low voting of 7 per cent.
This election, Abdullah, the three-time chief minister, and three-time Lok Sabha member, would be fancying his chances for the fourth win, from the seat, spread over three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal.
While it remains to be seen whether the contest would prove to be another low-turnout affair, like the previous one, the parties would be banking on support from pockets which have history of high voter turnout such as Ganderbal and Kangan assembly segments, peripheries of Srinagar, and segments of Budgam, including Char.
In the last state election, the NC was nearly routed from Srinagar by PDP, but today factors like anti-incumbency and two years of civilian unrest has dented credibility of the PDP that was shaken by rebellion last year. In absence of a potential alternative, NC might walk away with an edge.
Also, the rebellion saw influential Shia leader Imran Raza Ansari, and his uncle Abid Ansari, leaving PDP to join PC, making the challenge tougher for the PDP. Later, another senior leader Javaid Mustafa Mir quit the party and it was followed by expulsion of Altaf Bukhari from the PDP. Bukhari has announced support to Abdullah while Mir has joined Shah Faesal, giving further dent to PDP’s poll arithmetic.
Mohsin joined the PDP in 2017, after starting his political career with Congress and contested 2008 Assembly elections from Hazratbal seat. While he will be banking on Shia vote bank and support from the party, this electoral battle is going to be tougher one for him in his more than a decade-long career in politics during which he has struggled on peripheries.
Since 2015, the PC has nurtured pockets of influence in Srinagar and addition of Ansari duo has added to its vote bank. The party won the powerful position of the Mayor in bitterly fought Municipal elections in Srinagar. Its candidate Irfan, a novice in politics, has the backing of his elder brother Imran.
While Ansaris have significant vote bank in pockets of Srinagar and Budgam districts, the PC led by Sajad Gani Lone has been trying to project itself as an alternative to NC and PDP, attacking both for dynasty politics and holding them responsible for contributing to erosion of state’s autonomy.
While Mohsin and Irfan would walk away with their share of votes from Shia votebank in Srinagar and Budgam, it remains to be seen how NC’s Aga Syed Rouhullah, former minister, would compete with them, particularly in Budgam.
On the other hand, the BJP has almost remained non-existent on the campaigning front. Its candidate, Jehangir, has however managed to hog the headlines by issuing advertisements and putting up hoardings in green background rather than saffron of BJP.
In his short political career that took off after a selfie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally here in December 2015, Jehnagir has not much to boast of, except his appointment as vice-chairman JKPCC during the previous PDP-BJP government.
While Congress has decided not to contest elections, in support of Abdullah, there are eight other candidates, independents as well as those contesting on tickets from outside parties, in the fray. The entire constituency has a total 12.94 lakh voters, with Srinagar, the stronghold of separatists, contributing the major electoral share.
Addressing party workers here last month, Abdullah had said this would be his last parliament elections while asking the party to start looking for a “good candidate” to replace him.