, Apr 13: Nearly a year after her bitter split with the BJP, PDP leader and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s popularity in her traditional family stronghold Anantnag will be on test when the Lok Sabha constituency goes to polls in three phases on April 23, 29 and May 6.
Mufti, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from this constituency in 2014, is being challenged by state Congress chief G.A. Mir and former judge of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Justice Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference.
Analysts feel that the 59-year-old PDP President has taken a huge political risk by entering the electoral fray herself despite the substantial anger against her in her constituency for aligning with the BJP.
Interestingly, Shams Khwaja of Uttar Pradesh, a non-state subject of Jammu and Kashmir (one who does not have permanent residency certificate of Jammu and Kashmir as per Article 370 of the Constitution), is also contesting the polls from this constituency, possibly marking a first in the state.
Sofi Yusuf of the BJP is also among the 18 candidates in the fray here.
Another first this time is that polling will be held in three phases for the single Lok Sabha constituency of Anantnag in view of heightened militancy in south Kashmir.
The recent major attack in south Kashmir took place on February 14 when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a CRPF convoy in Pulwama district, killing over 40 security personnel.
It was because of the heightened militancy in this area that the by-election could not be held till now for the Lok Sabha constituency ever since Mehbooba Mufti resigned from the seat after becoming the Chief Minister of the state following death of her father Mufti Sayeed.
All four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama have seen increased militancy since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burban Wani was killed in a gunfight with the security forces in Kokernag area of Anantnag district in July 2016.
Burhani’s killing unleashed the 2016 unrest in the Kashmir valley in which 98 civilian protesters were killed and over 4,000 others lost their vision partially or permanently due to pellet gunshots fired by the security forces to control unruly mobs.
After Burhan’s killing, scores of local youths reportedly joined the militant ranks. Mehbooba Mufti was the Chief Minister then, heading a coalition government of PDP and BJP. The coalition government collapsed in June last year when the BJP withdrew its support.
The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency has traditionally been a political stronghold of the PDP and Mehbooba Mufti’s victory or defeat is likely to weigh heavily on the prospects of her party’s performance when Assembly elections are held in the state which is under the President’s Rule currently.
The constituency has 16 Assembly segments of Anantnag, Bijbehara, Kokernag, Shangus, Devsar, Homeshalibugh, Noorabad, Kulgam, Dooru, Shopian, Wachi, Rajpora, Pulwama, Tral, Pahalgam and Pampore.
Of these, the PDP had won in 11, the National Conference and Congress in 2 each and the CPI-M in 1 in the 2014.
Ghulam Ahmad Mir of the Congress has a strong support base in Dooru, Kokernag, Shangus and Devsar voting segments.
The election campaign of all three main contestants — PDP, NC and Congress — is largely focused on the preservation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution which guarantee special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
The BJP has declared its commitment to abrogate these articles if voted to power again.
Security forces face a huge challenge to ensure incident-free elections in this constituency.
Unprecedented security arrangements have been planned for the three days the constituency goes to vote.
A total of 13,93,370 voters are eligible to exercise vote in 1,842 polling stations on April 23, April 29 and May 6. (IANS)
Home Minister Amit Shah reviews situation in J&K
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday reviewed the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
During the two-hour long meeting, also attended by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba among others, the home minister was given a detailed presentation on the prevailing security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly along the International Border and the Line of Control.
The home minister took stock of the situation and was briefed about the steps taken to maintain peace along border areas as well as in the Valley, a security official said.
Lieutenant General K J S Dhillon, General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, which looks after the Kashmir Valley, had recently said there have been infiltration attempts from across the border.
SC allows Azad to visit J&K
The Supreme Court of India on September 16 allowed senior Indian National Congress leader and former Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to visit his home state.
The apex court allowed Azad to visit Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Jammu.
However, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi said Azad will not be allowed to “make any speeches or hold any public rally as per his own submissions”.
Azad had moved SC seeking permission to visit his home state to enquire about the well-being of his family.
Azad’s petition was taken up by a bench of CJI Gogoi, and Justices SA Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer on September 16.
There are formidable reasons, says SC on J&K curbs
The Supreme Court asked the government to take all steps to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir but stressed there were “formidable reasons” for the restrictions imposed by the government.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi which took up a bunch of petitions on the scrapped special status for the state and its impact, also accepted a request from Ghulam Nabi Azad to travel to four districts to reach out to people and ascertain their problems.
Chief Justice Gogoi also responded to a complaint that people weren’t able to approach the high court, offered to ascertain the situation and if need be, even travel to the state.
Justice SA Bobde, one of the three judges on the bench, responded to the Attorney General’s outline of the situation in Kashmir: “These are formidable reasons. A terrible state of affairs”.
“We trust you will endeavour to establish the situation in Kashmir,” the judge told the Centre, asking the government to file an affidavit within two weeks.
Venugopal rejected the contention by journalist Anuradha Bhasin about curbs on media in Kashmir, asserting that all newspapers were being published without any impediment.
At one point when the judges asked a petitioner why he didn’t approach the high court, the bench was told that the complete shutdown prevented people from reaching the court. Chief Justice Gogoi took serious note of the argument and said he would speak with the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Justice to ascertain the facts and if necessary, travel to the state.