Anantnag-Rajouri: New seat, old battles

The newly created trans-Pir Panjal Lok Sabha constituency is one of the most closely watched seats for myriad reasons.

Published : Mar 31, 2024 22:39 IST - 4 MINS READ

At a public rally addressed by DPAP president  Ghulam Nabi Azad, in Anantnag on March 4.

At a public rally addressed by DPAP president Ghulam Nabi Azad, in Anantnag on March 4. | Photo Credit: Imran Nissar/ANI

It was the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that first mooted the reconstruction of the 16th-century Mughal road that connects the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu with Shopian district in the Kashmir Valley. Now, the BJP is gearing up to take this route to ensure a stamp of legitimacy for its growing political activities in the Kashmir Valley. The constituency, consisting of geographically, ethnically, and politically diverse regions, will go to the polls on May 7.

After the last PDP-BJP government collapsed and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was dissolved in 2018, the former State was brought under Central rule. Since then, scores of political leaders from prominent parties such as the NC, the PDP, and the Congress have switched over to the BJP or other parties such as Ghulam Nabi Azad’s DPAP and the Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party.

Also Read | Kashmir candidates ‘nearly final’: Omar to replace Farooq in Srinagar; Mehbooba, Mian Altaf and Azad may clash in Anantnag-Rajouri

Meanwhile, the delimitation commission headed by Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai redrew the political map in 2022. The former State had six Lok Sabha constituencies, two in the Jammu region (Jammu and Udhampur), three in Kashmir (Srinagar, Baramulla, and Anantnag), and one in Ladakh. Now, the Jammu region, while retaining its two original seats, shares a part of the Anantnag-Rajouri seat with Kashmir. In the constituency, 11 Assembly segments are in the Kashmir region’s Shopian, Kulgam, and Anantnag districts, and 7 are in Jammu region’s Poonch and Rajouri districts.

The Anantnag-Rajouri contest is a battle for survival for the PDP and the NC. Anantnag had always been a PDP stronghold. But in 2019, PDP leader and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti finished third. The NC candidate Hasnain Masoodi won it, defeating Ghulam Ahmad Mir of the Congress.

With an eye on Rajouri-Poonch, the Modi government included the Pahari ethnic group in the Scheduled Tribe list and implemented the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, a long-standing demand of the tribal communities. To woo the dominant castes, the government in 2019 approved a 10 per cent reservation in jobs for economically backward groups among them. Since 2014, the BJP has retained Udhampur and Jammu. In the Udhampur-Doda parliamentary constituency, while the BJP has renominated Union Minister Jitendra Singh for the third time, the Congress has nominated the political turncoat Choudhary Lal Singh, who won the election from the constituency in 2004 and 2009 as a Congress candidate. 

Lal Singh quit the Congress in 2014 when the party denied him the ticket and fielded Ghulam Nabi Azad instead. He joined the BJP and was a Cabinet Minister in the PDP-BJP State government. He was forced to resign amid growing criticism after he sided with people accused of the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim nomadic tribal girl in Kathua district in 2018.

The DPAP candidate, Ghulam Mohammad Saroori, a former Minister and Congress leader, is also contesting the seat and is likely to queer the pitch for Lal Singh.

Similarly, the BJP is repeating Jugal Kishore Sharma in Jammu. The Congress, which is the main challenger to the saffron party, has nominated former Minister and Pradesh Congress Committee working president Raman Bhalla. The NC and the PDP are seemingly not inclined to contest. But the DPAP and Apni Party could eat into the Congress’ vote share and tilt the scales in the BJP’s favour. Although the NC and the PDP did not field candidates in 2019, the BJP’s Jugal Kishore managed to defeat Raman Bhalla by a comfortable margin.

Also Read | How suspension of cross-LoC trade shattered Uri’s economy

In October 2021, Devender Singh Rana, the younger brother of Union Minister and BJP leader Jitendra Singh, quit the NC. His emphasis on “Jammu” is in line with the BJP’s long-standing narrative about “regional discrimination” before the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked. He has also communicated to his supporters that he was feeling suffocated in the “Kashmir-centric” party. Rana was once the most trusted lieutenant of Omar Abdullah.

In the absence of a clear understanding between the INDIA bloc partners, the emergence of new political players after August 5, 2019, and the BJP poaching grassroots leaders from rival parties, the saffron party seems to have the edge in the Jammu region.

According to political analysts, its conquest of Pir Panjal could bring the curtains down on the Kashmir-centric identity-based politics in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment