Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is among the candidates whose fates will be decided on Tuesday, a key election phase that will also be a contest between the boycott and pro-voting camps. Several of the seats voting are in separatist strongholds, prompting a boycott-wary Election Commission into clustering a number of booths.
Omar is in a triangular contest in Beerwah, one of two seats he chose. The real test will be here because the National Conference chose it as a safe seat while Sonawar, the other seat, is expected to provide him the stiffer of the two contests.
In Beerwah, Omar is up against the Congress’s Nazir Ahmad Khan and the PDP’s sitting legislator Dr Mohammad Shafi. It is because of perceived anti-incumbency against Shafi, who many accuse of ignoring the constituency, that Omar shifted from Ganderbal to Beerwah. But Congress candidate Nazir, son of former PDP minister Sarfaraz Khan, too has emerged a strong contender. Omar will be banking on consolidation of the Shia vote, while the PDP will be hoping Beerwah town, where it enjoys support, will for once ignore the boycott call.
The elections will also decide the fate of Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, who is seeking a seventh consecutive term from Chrar-e-Sharief. Rather is fighting not only the PDP candidate but also infighting in his party, with many of his loyalists having switched sides.
Another interesting fight is in Uri, where Congress minister Taj Mohidin is in a triangular contest with the PDP’s Raja Ajaz and the NC’s Mohammad Shafi. The elections also feature two strong independent candidates, Ghulam Hassan Mir and Hakim Yasin, besides Shia leader Aga Roohullah (NC) from Budgam.
Areas with a strong Hurriyat presence include Sopore, Baramulla and Pattan. The Election Commission has shifted dozens of polling stations and clustered them at single places. In the three constituencies, more than 25 polling stations have been shifted. The decision was taken following various security reports, EC sources said.
In Baramulla city, where separatists have strong pockets in old pockets, all polling stations have been shifted to Civil Lines area. The old city’s nearly 20,000 registered voters will have to walk more than 2 km to the polling stations set up inside an old hospital building and some government offices.
“We have decided to shift or club some 12 to 15 polling stations from the old city, besides more than 10 polling stations in Sopore,’’ returning officer (Baramulla) Riyaz Ahmad Wani said.
In Pattan constituency, two polling stations have been shifted from Phalalan village. The turnout here was less than 10 per cent last time; in the parliamentary elections, too, most voters stayed away and militants lobbed a grenade towards a polling station. “We have shifted two stations from one place to another in Phalalan village,’’ the returning officer for Pattan told The Indian Express.
In Sopore, where only one per cent polling was recorded in the parliamentary elections, 12 polling stations have been shifted from places where police fear stone pelting and disturbances.
Tral, which saw less than one per cent voting in the parliamentary elections, is expected to vote more prominently this time — if only to prevent the BJP candidate from winning the seat. The constituency has 1,445 registered migrant voters and a sizeable Sikh population. The BJP has fielded a Sikh candidate.