As the Anantnag parliamentary constituency featuring stalwarts Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference’s Mirza Mehboob Beg goes to polls on April 24, it is likely to set the tone for the other two electoral battles in Kashmir.
The turnout in the wake of the poll boycott call by separatists as well as the enthusiasm Congress supporters show for Beg will also have an impact on Srinagar and Baramulla constituencies, which vote on April 30 and May 7 respectively.
Beg is the sitting MP from Anantnag, though the seat and its surrounding areas in south Kashmir are considered a PDP bastion. While the NC is hoping to win again, the PDP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the victory of its party president.
Mehbooba had won the Anantnag parliamentary seat in 2004 beating Beg by more than 38,000 votes. In contrast, Beg’s victory margin over the PDP’s Peer Mohammad Hussain in 2009 was a mere 5,200 votes.
The constituency comprises four districts and 16 Assembly segments and has 12.72 lakh voters, of which nearly half are women. The PDP represents 12 of the 16 assembly segments, the Congress two and the NC and CPM one each. However, the vote share of allies NC and Congress in the 16 segments in the 2008 Assembly elections was together more than the PDP’s.
Beg is a joint candidate of the NC and Congress as part of a pre-poll alliance. However, the tie-up is not that smooth on the ground, with a sizeable number of leaders and workers of both parties unhappy with the alliance. There are reports that many NC supporters didn’t vote for Congress candidates in the Jammu and Udhampur parliamentary seats, polling for which took place on April 10 and 17 respectively.
Himself part of a political legacy in Kashmir, being the son of prominent leader Mirza Afzal Beg, Mehboob can give a tough fight to Mehbooba in Anantnag only if Congress supporters vote for him. The Congress has substantial support in the Assembly segments of Kokernag and Dooru.
What will also help Beg is a lesser turnout in the wake of the poll boycott call by separatists. The NC has a strong and dedicated cadre and they are expected to turn out irrespective of the boycott, boosting Beg’s chances. The presence of militants in south Kashmir and the recent attack killing a sarpanch are also likely to affect the turnout.
The PDP is expected to do better in the rural pockets where more people are likely to come out to vote. The AAP has also fielded a candidate from Anantnag. Its nominee Tanveer Maqbool Dar is the son of former Union minister of state for home the late Mohammed Maqbool Dar.