Nearly two years after she quit as Lok Sabha MP from Anantnag to take up the reins in Jammu and Kashmir, former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday announced that she will contest the forthcoming polls from the south Kashmir constituency.
This is being seen as an attempt by the PDP to keep its south Kashmir bastion intact. In 2014, Mufti had defeated then National Conference (NC) candidate Mehboob Beg by over 65,000 votes. She had defeated Beg earlier, in 2004, from the same seat by over 38,000 votes. Beg, who had won in 2009 against PDP’s Peer Mohammad Hussain by around 5,000 votes, has since joined PDP.
Anantnag, which votes in three phases, is set for a triangular contest this time among Mufti, former High Court judge Hasnain Masoodi of NC, and the Congress. The Congress is yet to announce its candidate but sources said state party chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir is set to contest. Sajad Lone’s Peoples’ Conference and the BJP have also announced their candidates for Anantnag.
Candidature Mufti’s message to cadres
Mehbooba Mufti’s decision to contest from Anantnag assumes significance since the PDP has seen considerable erosion in its base in south Kashmir after militant Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016 sparked massive street protests, especially in south Kashmir. Top PDP leaders, especially those from south Kashmir, reportedly pressured Mufti to contest. Party leaders see this move as important messaging to the cadres after a difficult nine months since the coalition government with BJP fell. “There could have been no stronger message than fielding the party president from south Kashmir,” as one top PDP leader put it.
Addressing the media, Mufti also announced PDP’s decision to not field any candidate from the two Lok Sabha seats of Jammu region in an effort to not divide the “secular” votes. This makes way for a straight contest between the BJP and the Congress for Jammu-Rajouri and Udhampur-Doda seats. The Congress has an alliance with NC for these two, and the Srinagar seat, from where NC supremo Farooq Abdullah is contesting. The Congress and NC are engaged in a “friendly fight” in Anantnag, Baramulla and Ladakh.
“There are talks of a mahagathbandan (grand alliance) in the country. It (alliance) is not taking place the way it should have, but we made an effort on our part — a unilateral effort that there should be no loss to secular votes…” Mufti said. The BJP is repeating sitting MPs from both seats — MoS Jitendra Singh from Udhampur-Doda and Jugal Kishore from Jammu-Rajouri. They will take on Congress’s Vikramaditya Singh and Raman Bhalla, respectively.
Mufti said they are yet to decide on the candidate for Ladakh seat and announced Aga Mohsin as the PDP candidate for Srinagar.