Farooq Abdullah faces tough challenge in Srinagar
Retaining Srinagar is a tough call for the 78-year old National Conference patron and thrice Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He has never lost an election so far, but winning the elections this time is not a foregone conclusion for him.
Abdullah is seeking re-election from this Lok Sabha seat that is spread over three districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Badgam with 1.23 million voters. The Abdullahs, who belong to Srinagar district, have held sway over the people in Kashmir for over 50 years. Srinagar has been a strong bastion of the NC and the Abdullahs.
The constituency has been represented in the past by Abdullah's mother, Begum Akbar Jahan. His son and state chief minister, Omar Abdullah has represented Srinagar in the Lok Sabha thrice.
The main electoral plank of the NC has been targeting BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, warning people not to vote for PDP which the NC alleges has an undeclared understanding with the NDA and preservation of article 370.
Traditional political strategy of mainstream politicians in Kashmir has been to understate their pro-Indian credentials and tickle separatist sentiments to win votes during elections.
Breaking away from that tradition, PDP patron and former state chief minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has been publicly saying he is fighting for a better dispensation for Jammu and Kashmir within the country's constitution.
Sayeed praises former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in rallies and public meetings and claims to fight for creating a wider space for debate and discourse in the state's politics.
There are 14 candidates in fray in this Lok Sabha seat, but the main contest is going to be between Farooq Abdullah and Tariq Hamid Karra of the regional Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The PDP has built inroads into areas once believed to be impregnable because of NC's influence. What has been worrying the PDP leaders who claim to depend largely on anti-incumbency factor, unemployment, corruption and mis-governance, is the separatist appeal to voters to boycott the polls in this Lok Sabha seat.
The recent terror attacks, killings of three village headmen and a poll official in south Kashmir's Anantnag constituency is likely to have a dampening effect on the voter turnout in Srinagar.
In 1999 Lok Sabha elections just 11.93 percent votes were polled here, in 2004 the voting percentage rose to 18.57 percent while it went up to 25.55 percent during 2009 elections.
Of the eight assembly segments in Srinagar district including Amira Kadal, Hazratbal, Zadibal, Eidgah, Khanyar, Habba Kadal, Sonawar and Batamaloo, voting has always been very low since the outbreak of separatist violence in Kashmir in early 1990s.
Separatist boycott calls have in fact had little effect in villages and suburbs, although towns and cities in the Valley have been adversely impacted by these calls.
In the five assembly segments of Chadoora, Badgam, Beerwah, Khan Sahib and Charar-e-Sharief in Badgam district, voter turnout is going to be better than Srinagar district.
In the two assembly segments of Ganderbal and Kangan in Ganderbal district, voter turnout is likely to be impacted by separatist boycott call. But voter turnout is expected to be respectable in villages.
The election commission has given fresh instructions to district authorities to ensure sufficient security for the polling stations so that the polls are not disturbed April 30 when the constituency goes to vote.
As many as 1,546 polling stations are being set up at 968 places in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. Of these 18 are being set up for Kashmiri Hindu migrants.
Given security considerations, just 55 polling stations in this Lok Sabha seat have been declared as normal while all others have been categorized as hyper sensitive and sensitive.
Just 15 polling stations have been categorized as normal in Srinagar district and 40 in Badgam district. No polling station has been categorized as normal in Ganderbal district.
Around 50 companies of central armed forces and over 10,000 police personnel are being deployed to secure polling stations and prevent guerrillas from thwarting the voting process in this Lok Sabha seat.
(Posted on 29-04-2014)