Farooq goes in with Cong edge, boycott call setback

Seeking re-election from Srinagar, National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah assured voters recently: “I will work for this constituency as long as I am alive.” A high-profile constituency with more than 11 lakh voters across three districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam, the seat is considered an NC bastion and all the assembly members of Srinagar and  Ganderbal districts are from the ruling party. Members of the Abdullah family have won the seat five times — 1977, 1989, 1999, 2004 and 2009. It has also been represented by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Though anti-incumbency may reduce the winning margin, that the NC and Congress are jointly contesting these polls will give Farooq an edge over his rivals. The NC will never want to lose Srinagar. But if the winning margin does go down, it will not bode well for the party with assembly polls scheduled within the next few months. An election boycott call by separatists, who enjoy a considerable clout here, may have an impact on the turnout in Srinagar district.

During election meetings, both father and son target the PDP leadership, especially party patron Mufti Mohammad Syed, blaming him for all ills Kashmir is facing. In urban pockets, Farooq promises to restore autonomy and get the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act revoked.

Last elections, Abdullah had defeated prominent Shia cleric and senior PDP leader Molvi Ifthikar Hussain Ansari with a margin of over 30,000 votes. This time, the PDP has fielded former state finance minister Tariq Hamid Qarra. Aam Aadmi Party has fielded RTI activist Raja Muzzuffar Bhat. However, the fight is between Abdullah and Qarra with the AAP not yet a potent force here.

For the past two weeks, Farooq and Omar have addressed a series of public gatherings within the city and across rural pockets in Budgam and Ganderbal to ensure that their vote bank remains intact.

There’s also resentment among voters. “Srinagar is the direct victim of official apathy when it comes to development. Moreover, there is no security for people in terms of jobs or social justice,” says Abdul Qayoom Bhat of Srinagar.

A three-tier security arrangement is in place for the polling day, particularly around sensitive polling stations. Deputy commissioner Farooq Shah, who is also the returning officer, said, “Of the 1,546 polling stations, 1,021 have been declared hypersensitive, 420 sensitive and 55 normal. We have made separate arrangements for migrant voters in Jammu and Delhi.”