The National Conference (NC) pulled off a surprise win in the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat this time, with party candidate Hasnain Masoodi defeating PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti on her home turf. Masoodi, who contested his first election, also left behind state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir.
How the NC managed a win in what has long been considered a PDP bastion is attributed largely to the resentment against the PDP, the poor turnout in the party’s traditional strongholds and to the NC’s extensive campaign on its position to safeguard Articles 35A and 370.
Of the 16 Assembly segments that constitute the Anantnag Parliamentary constituency, the PDP held 11 in the last Assembly elections. While the NC and the Congress held two each, the CPM held one seat.
Masoodi, a former judge of J&K High Court, was not a political worker. In fact, he formally joined the NC four days after his candidature was announced. Masoodi got over 32 per cent of the total votes polled. Three areas helped him score a majority over his rivals — his home district Pampore (Pulwama), NC stronghold Noorabad (Kulgam) and Pahalgam (Anantnag). Together, these districts contributed more than half of the total 40,000 votes polled in his favour.
Masoodi told The Indian Express, “As soon as Mehbooba Mufti’s candidature was announced, we were sure we would sail through. How could the people repose their faith on someone who had presided over so many deaths?”
He also said the NC reached out to the youth who “understand and relate to the challenge to the special status of Kashmir”. “So how can a party that compromised our autonomy claim to defend our special status?” he said.
He said the ban on civilian movement on the highway connecting north and south Kashmir was announced in the middle of the election season and that aggravated the anger among the people, leading to a low turnout.
The Congress candidate finished second with approximately 27 per cent vote share while the PDP chief was pushed to the third place with 24 per cent votes.
The low turnout across South Kashmir hurt PDP the most. In 2014, Bijbehara recorded a turnout of 36 per cent, this time it dipped to 2 per cent. The Pahalgam assembly segment, which recorded 55 per cent polling in 2014 and 54 per cent in 2009, recorded a turnout of 20 per cent this time.
Senior PDP leaders admitted that the other parties banked on the resentment against Mehbooba and the PDP. “Perhaps we were not able to convey our reasons for the alliance with the BJP, and the resentment remained unaddressed,” a party leader said.