Srinagar, April 21:
For the first time in her political career, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief and party candidate for Anantnag LS seat, Mehbooba Mufti, faces an uphill task to win the electoral battle from the south once a stronghold of the party.
The daughter of former union home minister and PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Mehbooba began her political journey from her native area Bijbehara where she won the 1996 assembly elections on Congress ticket.
And since then she has comfortably won all the six elections— four assembly and two LokSabha— that she contested from south Kashmir.
Mehbooba single-handedly strengthened the PDP base in south Kashmir after she opted to resign from the Assembly in 1999 following the formation of PDP by her father.
The region remained worst hit from mid-nineties to the early years of 2000. Mehbooba would travel deep into the villages to listen to the people and sympathize with them. Soon, the party yielded its dividends getting 16 seats in its maiden appearance in the 2002 Assembly elections with majority of those coming from south Kashmir.
Mehbooba won Pahalgam assembly seat. Mufti Sayeed went on to become the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister after allying with the Congress and the party grew in popularity riding on the resentment against the National Conference which had ruled the state for most of the period.
In 2004, Mehbooba left the Pahalgam seat for her father and contested her maiden LokSabha elections on Anantnag Parliamentary seat and won comfortably.
In 2008 she contested from Wachi assembly segment of Shopian and was elected to the lower house. Even, though the party had to sit in the opposition, it increased its tally to 23 with south Kashmir alone giving 12 seats in the 16 Assembly segments there.
The party also wrested the Anantnag assembly seat for the first time after Mufti himself contested from there. PDP’s vote share was more than the NC and the Congress who together formed the government.
Continuing with her public outreach initiative and being a vocal opposition to the policies of the NC-Congress coalition government in the Assembly, she managed to hold on to her “soft separatist” image.
She went on to win the 2014 AnantnagLokSabha seat once again with a thumping majority. In the Assembly elections that followed her party increased its tally to 28, sweeping even in north Kashmir and making inroads into central Kashmir.
In south Kashmir, they, however, went one seat down to 11, losing Pahalgam and Home Shalibugh (Qaimoh-Yaripora) to the NC and Shangus and Devsar to the Congress but took away Kokernag and Dooru from the Congress and Noorbad-DH Pora from the NC only by a whisker.
Nevertheless, the vote share of the party in the Valley was again the highest among all political parties.
However, soon the party’s image was badly dented in Kashmir when it allied with the BJP, the party it had promised to keep at bay during its election campaigning.
“This was a turning point in the downfall of the party and the subsequent events that followed did not help it either,” says a political analyst.
After, Mufti’s death, Mehbooba again returned to state politics to become the first woman Chief Minister of J&K.
Even as she won the by-elections in June 2016 from Anantnag assembly segment but she struggled to rectify the party’s image.
“The tide started turning further against the party following the five-month-long civil uprising triggered by the killing of Hizb commander BurhanWani in which nearly 100 people lost lives and thousands were injured,” an analyst said.
South Kashmir in particular remained the epicentre of protests with 70 killings occurring in the region alone. The anger did not die down and this subsequently saw the young boys taking to arms.
The security situation grew worse and the region virtually became no go zone for a mainstream politicians.
Finally when BJP pulled out of alliance, “the party was left with nothing in hand but to go to the people again,” said a political analyst.
“Of late, Mehbooba has tried hard to justify the father’s decision to ally with the BJP, but for now it seems unlikely that this will help her,” he said.
Mehbooba is now locked in horns with senior Congress leader and JKPCC chief GA Mir and judge turned politician HassnainMasoodi of the NC.
Both the parties have been hitting out at Mehbooba and her party for “betraying the mandate” of Kashmiris by allying with the BJP.
They have been accusing her and her party of strengthening the “base of the RSS in the Valley” and being “responsible for current situation”.
“Given these circumstances, winning the seventh election in a trot will surely be an uphill task for her,” said another analyst.
“However, with party over the years having developed a strong cadre in the south, it would solely be banking upon them to help their leader sail through. This would at least salvage some of its pride after having been hit by a rebellion with several of its top leaders quitting and joining other parties,” he said.
“It is like a do-or-die situation for Mehbooba. If she loses, it would affect not only her reputation but tell upon her party’s future as well,” said an analyst.
Congress, on the other hand, has a strong vote base in the assembly segments which have traditionally remained high voter turnout areas including Dooru, Kokernag, Shangus (in Anantnag district) and Devsar in Kulgam district.
The NC has a substantial vote bank in Pahalgam (Anantnag) ,Noorabad-DHpora (Kulgam), but PDP too is not far away there.
The PDP is strong in the rest of the ten constituencies – Anantnag, Bijbehara, Kulgam, Home Shalibugh, Pulwama, Rajpora, Tral, Pampore, Shopian, and Wachi.
“The total voter turnout that will be witnessed in these areas may also seal the party’s fate”
In Anantnag, however Congress too has a substantial vote, while in Homeshalibugh the NC had wrested the seat in last assembly elections.
Kulgam’s four-time MLA and CPI (M) leader MY Tarigami has already announced support to the NC.
“Masaodi, might emerge as a dark horse,” said an analyst. “He might get some vote share from his home town Pampore and the resentment against PDP may also help him.”
8 CANDIDATES IN FRAY
Eighteen candidates are in the fray in the elections. BJP has fielded former MLC SofiYousuf; People’s Conference and Engineer Rashid AwamiItihad Party (AIP) have given tickets to Zafar Chaudhary and ZubairMasoodi respectively.
Physiotherapist, RizwanaSanam daughter of former NC leader and former legislator Abdul KabeerPathan and a Supreme Court lawyer from Delhi Shams Khwaja are also among the contenders.
BY-POLLS CANCELLED IN 2017
In April 2017 the government fearing violence had to cancel the by-elections of this LS necessitated after Mehbooba vacated the seat to return to state politics.
Mir was the joint candidate for the Congress-NC while the PDP had then fielded Mehbooba’s cinematographer brother Tasaduk Mufti.
Courtesy: Greater Kashmir