AMIDST fears of a poll boycott, if election fervour is being seen anywhere in the Valley, it is the Baramulla constituency that votes in the first phase on April 11.
Ten candidates are in the fray in the seat, which is spread over Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipore districts of North Kashmir. A large part of it is along the border, an area where separatists hold lesser sway and voter turnouts are higher. This is also the reason why the seat was chosen for elections in the first phase.
The real contest is between the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC). The NC candidate is former legislator Mohammad Akbar Lone, the PDP has fielded trade union leader Abdul Qayoom Wani, while the PC has given ticket to former inspector general of police Raja Ajaz Ali.
In 2014, the PDP had dominated in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. In the general elections, the PDP’s Muzaffar Hussain Beigh had defeated the NC’s Sharif-ud-din Shariq by close to 30,000 votes. In the Assembly elections, of the 15 segments under Baramulla, the PDP had won seven, the NC three, the Congress and PC two each, and one seat had gone to Independent Engineer Rashid.
This time, however, the PDP may struggle. The party is facing public backlash over aligning with the BJP to form a coalition government in the state.
The party is hoping to counter some of the discontent with the goodwill its candidate Abdul Qayoom Wani enjoys as the president of the Employees Joint Action Committee, a state government employees’ organisation, with a clean image. There are over 4.5 lakh government employees in the state.
The NC’s Akbar Lone is banking on the party’s traditional vote bank and cadre strength, the largest in the state. In 2014, Lone had won from Sonawari Assembly seat.
The PC too has a lot riding on Baramulla, as this is the only constituency where the party has a realistic chance. The PC’s candidate, Raja Ajaz Ali, a former police officer, had unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Assembly elections from Uri as a PDP candidate and only recently switched sides. Ali is expected to attract voters from his Pahari vote bank, and is also counting on a dedicated PC vote bank in the frontier Kupwara district, to which Sajad Lone belongs.
However, Engineer Rashid, who is standing as an Independent, would eat into PC votes. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Rashid had secured a little over 22,000 votes.