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

Unable to arrive at an agreement, the major parties are going solo in Kashmir, while the BJP’s “proxies” are queering the pitch.

Published : Mar 30, 2024 21:32 IST - 5 MINS READ

NC leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at a public rally in Kulgam district on December 9, 2023.

NC leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at a public rally in Kulgam district on December 9, 2023. | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

In the drastically altered electoral map of the Kashmir Valley, political players are holding their cards close to their chest. However, sources told Frontline that the National Conference (NC) has “zeroed in on” former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for the Srinagar constituency, Ruhullah Mehdi for Baramulla, and Mian Altaf for Anantnag-Rajouri, the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir. In the 2019 general election, the NC won all three, an argument the party has used to deny seat-sharing among INDIA bloc parties within the Valley.

The electoral battle lines are expected to be influenced, though not swayed, by the potential alliance between Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP), Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party, and Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference. The political parties, therefore, are biding their time to announce their candidates.

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Srinagar or Baramulla: where will Omar contest from?

There is a buzz in Srinagar’s political corridors that Omar Abdullah may make a foray into North Kashmir by contesting from Baramulla, where Sajad Lone has announced his candidature. However, Omar Abdullah, according to sources, is “more likely to contest from Srinagar”. The Abdullah versus Lone contest will happen only if Mehdi, an influential Shia leader from Budgam, refuses to join the fray in Baramulla. Mehdi is reportedly unwilling to contest. For quite some time after Article 370 was abrogated in August 2019, Mehdi advocated abstaining from electoral politics, a line that upset seniors in his party. If Mehdi remains unwilling to contest NC has another shortlisted candidate from the Baramulla constituency: Chowdhary Ramzan.

Elections in Anantnag-Rajouri, Srinagar, and Baramulla will take place on May 7, 13, and 20, respectively.

In the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti is all set to enter the fray, highly placed sources said, but party workers want her to contest from Srinagar.

The delimitation exercise has fundamentally altered the character of the constituencies. Earlier, Anantnag was considered a PDP bastion, and Srinagar usually went with the Abdullahs. However, now the Shia-dominated Budgam and Beerwah, which were NC strongholds, have been excluded from Srinagar and added to Baramulla. Also, four Assembly segments from Pulwama and one from Shopian, which were PDP strongholds, are now part of Srinagar.

Although the PDP is tight-lipped about Mehbooba Mufti’s candidature, a senior party leader said that she was “very much prepared to contest”, adding that she would not contest from Srinagar. He also said that senior leader Mehboob Beg and young Turk Waheed Para were being considered for the central Kashmir constituency.

It is expected that the PDP will put up candidates against the NC in all three seats.

Delhi’s ‘proxies’

According to sources, Apni Party’s Ashraf Mir has been finalised by the Azad-led alliance as the consensus candidate for Srinagar. However, the NC is confident that it will prevail over Delhi’s “proxies”.

Frontline has also learnt that Ghulam Nabi Azad is set to contest from the Anantnag-Rajouri seat, and his likely rivals are Mehbooba Mufti, and Mian Altaf, an influential Gujjar leader. A senior NC leader, who preferred to remain unnamed, said: “I hope she [Mehbooba Mufti] does not contest. It will be an embarrassment. She will end up in the third spot. It’s NC all the way.”

However, responses from a cross section of the public indicated that Mehbooba Mufti has the potential to emotionally overcome the odds. They cited the work done by her father, former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and said that could work in her favour.

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Sources said that Congress had offered a 2-2-1 formula for the five seats: Baramulla and Srinagar for the NC; Jammu and Udhampur for the Congress; and Anantnag-Rajouri for the PDP. But by the first week of March, the NC had made public its decision to contest all three seats in Kashmir. Naeem Akhtar, senior PDP leader and Finance Minister in the erstwhile PDP-BJP government, said that it was very unfortunate that power politics had overshadowed the larger pursuit of protecting the Kashmiri identity from New Delhi’s designs.

However, Imran Dar of the NC told Frontline: “This is not merely an electoral battle, this is a fight for survival, a fight to restore the Kashmiri dignity. We are contesting all three seats in the Valley because we are the only party that has overwhelming public sentiment behind it and is best placed to defeat the BJP and its allies.”

Seat-sharing still on the cards?

Frontline has learnt that an emissary of Farooq Abdullah reached out to Mehbooba Mufti and asked her to hold deliberations with the NC president on March 18 or March 19, but on both days she was not available. Both Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were in Mumbai at the time to attend the culmination of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. The NC maintains that the INDIA bloc has not withered. Tanveer Sadiq, senior NC leader and political adviser to Omar Abdullah, told Frontline: “There may have been disagreements over seat-sharing, but the principal political parties in J&K are together in their struggle against the BJP and its proxies, and we will work to defeat these forces.”

M.Y. Tarigami, a spokesperson of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a political alliance between several parties in Jammu and Kashmir, is hopeful that the amalgamation will withstand the testing times. He told Frontline: “It is hoped that during the electoral process and afterwards, a wider unity emerges among secular, democratic forces.”

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