The National Conference’s Red and the People Conference’s Blue. These are the colours that dominated Srinagar’s spring landscape. Even the BJP’s saffron has been pushed to the margins in favour of green on its election paraphernalia.
Though campaigning ended for the Srinagar seat Tuesday, electioneering has remained concentrated in the Srinagar Assembly segment, where the NC has held its biggest rallies campaigning on an agenda that prioritised the challenge to Articles 35A and 370 and a promise to mount the strongest defence to any attempts towards its abrogation or annulment.
Of the six Lok Sabha seats of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar records the lowest polling averages. In past elections, both Assembly and Lok Sabha, polling percentages have remained at just above 20 per cent, even as in Budgam, polling was as high as 72 per cent in the last parliamentary elections. The voter turn out during the by-election to the Srinagar seat (2017) of a mere 7.12 per cent was the subject of intense debate post the Urban Local Body and Panchayat elections on 2018.
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Srinagar seat has largely been represented in Parliament by the National Conference by three generations of the Abdullah family and NC patriarch Farooq Abdullah is a three-time MP gunning for re-election.
His opponents include Irfan Ansari of the People’s Conference, which is seeking “change” from what it calls the “precedence of leaders who’ve failed to represent the state”, the BJP’s Khalid Jehangir and PDP’s Aga Syed Mohsin, among others.
On the last day of the campaign, NC vice-president Omar Abdullah addressed a rally at Sholipora, Budgam on the recently issued government order restricting the movement of civilian traffic on the National Highway connecting Udhampur to Baramulla, twice a week.
Campaigning on behalf of his father, Omar expressed concern over the decline of civilised political discourse. “We are witnessing a steep fall in the level of civility in the political discourse during the ongoing election campaign. There should be no place for any hate speech or personal attacks. I hope election commission takes rigorous action,” Omar said. “They (EC) should take tough measures in this direction to ensure the usage of illicit money in the elections is stopped.”
Ahead of the polls, in his last press briefing in Srinagar, BJP’s Ram Madhav had declared the BJP a mainstream party in the state. However, no senior party leaders arrived in Srinagar to campaign for its candidates here.
While Ansari remains staunchly opposed to dynastic politics, at least two generations of his family have contested against the Abdullahs. In 1977, Begum Akbar Jehan Abdullah defeated Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, then an Independent candidate, by over 1 lakh votes. The senior Ansari also contested against Farooq Abdullah in 2009, on a PDP ticket and this election, his son, Irfan Ansari is contesting against Abdullah on a PC ticket.
In its rallies, the PC has been reiterating that NC and PDP are “using” the issue of Article 370 to “scare” the voters since they do not have anything to fall back on. “They can’t speak of development, they cannot show their own record as MPs and so they rake this fear and present themselves as some kind of saviours,” PC leader Imran Ansari said.
Party chairman Sajad Lone has been camped at Kullan, Ganderbal where his party is hoping to draw out voters in its favour. Its candidate, Ansari, who is contesting his first election, has been touring the Budgam district. Incidentally, the PC also holds a majority in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, and its Mayor, Junaid Mattu, has been campaigning for Ansari.
The PDP has fielded a Shia candidate to perhaps divide the Shia voters given the Ansaris’ influence on the Shia population as religious leaders of the community.
The constituency of over 12.95 lakh electors in the three districts (Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal) that comprise the Lok Sabha constituency, there are 2.32 lakh Shia Muslim voters (census 2011). However, NC’s Shia leader Aga Ruhullah also exerts significant influence in the Shia voter in the Budgam region, even as uncle Aga Mohsin is contesting on a PDP ticket.