In a seat-sharing deal for three seats in Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress and the National Conference (NC) on Wednesday announced that the former will field candidates in Lok Sabha constituencies of Jammu-Poonch and Udhampur-Doda, while NC president and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah will contest from Srinagar.
The two parties will have a “friendly contest” in the three other Lok Sabha seats in the state: Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh. Emerging from a meeting with senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni at his residence in Bhatindi area of Jammu, the NC chief said, “Whether we win or they win (the remaining three seats), secular forces will get strengthened.”
Lok Sabha polls: Farooq Abdullah to contest from Srinagar
Without naming either BJP or PDP, Azad said at the joint media conference, “We (Congress and NC) will not attack each other but will have a friendly fight to defeat the third party. You (NC) win or we win in these three constituencies, it is the same thing, as both parties have a similar ideology at the national level.”
While Abdullah said that friendly fight in the three constituencies will “definitely work”, Azad said, “Both parties have strong presence in Anantnag and Baramulla, and (we) will have an understanding during the electoral contest”. Click here for election news
“Voters are much wiser than us,” he said when asked whether people will understand this friendly contest.
Expressing gratitude to Abdullah for leaving the two seats in Jammu region for the Congress, Azad said, “Had we contested separately in jammu division, National Conference’s 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh votes would have got deducted from their tally to the advantage of BJP. In Kashmir, where it is difficult to transfer votes and we have contest with other parties there, we have decided to have a friendly contest in Anantnag and Baramulla so that we are able to retain our turf and voters there.”
The NC’s decision to leave both Jammu seats for the Congress comes days after it announced B R Kundal, a retired bureaucrat and former minister, as the party candidate from Jammu-Poonch. Abdullah had recently attended two events with Kundal in Jammu city, declaring him the NC candidate.
Kundal, who belongs to the SC community, had joined NC recently after quitting the Congress. If NC had stuck to its decision, he would have been the first candidate from the SC community to contest Lok Sabha polls for any major political party in the state.
Jammu-Poonch constituency has 18 lakh voters, with Hindus and Muslims estimated in the ratio of 70:30. Of the Hindus, 24 per cent are estimated to be SCs.
Since 1967, when Lok Sabha elections were held for the first time in J&K, Jammu-Poonch has elected a Congress MP on eight occasions, the BJP thrice, and the NC once. The Congress had staked claim, citing that its leader Madan Lal Sharma had won the seat in 2004 and 2009.
The Congress is likely to field Vikramaditya Singh, eldest son of veteran party leader Karan Singh, from Udhampur-Doda. The seat has 14 lakh voters, split almost equally between Hindus and Muslims. Since 1967, Congress has won it nine times and the BJP four times.
On the Lok Sabha polls, Azad maintained that the friendly fight in the state does not matter because nationally the contest is with a “third” party, referring to the BJP. “State-level par yeh (NC) aye, hum aye, koi farak nahi padta hai…Anantnag aur Baramulla se koi aye hamey farak nahi padta; Vidhan Sabha mein koi aye farak nahi padta hai.
Lekin national level pe hum dono ki ladai nahi hai – wahan teesrey ke saath ladai hai (It does not matter who wins at the state level — in Vidhan Sabha or from Anantnag and Baramulla LS seats. At the national level, it is not a fight between us — our fight is with a third one),” the Congress leader said, without naming the BJP.