More I remained posted in Anantnag, more confused I was to understand the psyche of the people there. The people in this area of Kashmir Valley are undoubtedly sensible and sensitive. Like many other places elections in Anantnag always create an extra-ordinary attention and interest.
After the demise of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, by-poll for Anantnag assembly segment became inevitable. After getting election dates re-scheduled twice election bugle has been sounded for the constituency. This will be followed by Lok Sabha elections involving entire South Kashmir in near future.
Anantnag district has a dubious distinction of sending pre-decided MLAs to the Assembly. While speaking during March session of Assembly in 1967 Shamim Ahmad Shamim sarcastically paraphrased that most of Anantnag MLAs as "Khaliq made" (Abdul Khaliq was the then Deputy Commissioner of the District). In 1971 Parliamentary elections for South Kashmir seat Hakeem Ghulam Nabi of Jamat-e-Islami as independent candidate was winning the elections hands down. But the sudden mid-day announcement on the day of polling from a public address system arranged and orchestrated by a Congress candidate Muhammad Shafi Quraishi's followers asking people to boycott turned the game against Hakeem. Now, it is almost impossible to enact old election dramas. Thanks to strict election laws and tough enforcement.
This election has assumed tremendous importance as Mehbooba Mufti (second Kashmiri woman to rule the State after Kota Rani- 1339 AD) is in the fray. With Engineer Rashid withdrawing there are eight candidates in the run including candidates mandated by NC and Congress. The real contest is triangular i.e. Mehbooba Mufti, Iftikhar Misgar and Hilal Ahmad Shah, whileas AIP candidate Mujeeb-u-Rehman will play spoilsport. During 2014 elections of Anantnag constituency Mufti Mohammad Saeed, Hilal Shah and Iftikhar Misgar polled 16983, 10955 and 2403 votes respectively. Ironically migrants polled only 53 votes in favour of Senior Mufti out of 812 valid votes. Sadly NC votes remained within single digit at 21 polling stations of the constituency.
Fighting an election is an art and winning it is a craft. Elections will not be a cake-walk for Mehbooba because of diverse factors. Generally incumbency factor plays a vital role but in the instant case it is the BJP-PDP alliance which has the potential of getting exploited. An astute politician with twenty two years of ground experience, Mehbooba must have already tailored her armour. She is expected to use her late father's legacy and generate sympathy. Creation of all inclusive women Police Stations and exclusive gender specific commuter buses have given her an image of being women friendly, which may help her in wooing some female voters. Anti incumbency sentiment is yet to set in as it is too early. But for sure self rule and healing touch rhetoric is not going to work. Avoidable `cat and pigeon' remark and that young boy of neighbouring Botengo, (Khanabal) who was burnt alive at Udhampur, can't be ignored. Ghar Wapsi, abrogation of Art 370, construction of Sainik Colony, settlement of refugees in Jammu and transit camps for migrants etc are part of alliance baggage Mehbooba inherited from her father.
Anantnag assembly segment has tendency to get divided into urban and rural vote banks. While-as rural areas have been traditionally voting for NC, the urban voters always showed anti establishment tendency. In 2014 elections performance of NC remained quite disappointing and dismal. Out of 102 Polling Stations NC could manage to remain second to PDP only on 12 booths and for remaining 90 booths it was between late Mufti and the Congress candidate. Out of total valid votes ( 33171) PDP got 16983 votes followed by 10955 votes by Congress —– a respectable number. If figures are any indication, the NC's vote base is consistently shrinking- lowest being 2014 elections. Congress and NC by repeating their defeated candidates of 2014 elections speaks a lot about both parties. It is a tragedy of times that NC and congress had galaxy of leaders in the past such as Mirza Afzal Beg, Dr Abdul Majeed, Kochak brothers, Abdul Salam Deva, Mohi-ud-Din Shawl and Congress with Syed Mir Qasim, Mufti Saeed, Manohar Nath Koul, Peer Hisam-u-Din are now banking upon non-entities. In the absence of a formidable opposition Mehbooba has a reason to remain contended.
Militancy factor and the role of separatists will have strong bearing on the elections. Separatists, as usual, will cling to their stand of boycott. Naturally, the militants will supplement boycott call by remaining around and showing their presence. Boycott, as has been the past practice will have huge effect in the urban areas whileas rural areas will oblige candidates of their choice to some extent. The town has a substantial influence of Qazi Nisar's son (Qazi Yasir) who is running an organization Umat-i-Islami which was spearheading the agitation in 1986. Unrest and agitation in entire Anantnag resulted in dismissal of G.M.Shah Government in February 1986 and simultaneously imposition of Governor's rule. The boycott scenario will surely help the PDP to sail through. Repeating 2014 election, this time also the winning candidate will make it with a thin margin. The last week of campaigning will be extremely important and we may get answers of several remaining key questions. However, as of now it is advantage PDP.