Kashmir Bypolls: Litmus Test for PDP in Mehbooba’s Home Turf

Anantnag constituency in Kashmir, which is going for elections on 12 April, will see a contest between Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee President (JKPCC) Ghulam Muhammad Mir and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate, cinematographer-turned-politician and son of PDP founder late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Tasaduq Mufti.

South Kashmir, which was the hotbed of the 2016 unrest, is an important voter base for the PDP. In his first-ever election rally held last week at Dak Bungalow Anantnag, Tasaduq, in clear terms, warned his supporters not to “risk their lives”, sending a clear message to the people that the PDP has lost in its own bastion.

Also Read: Mufti Saaed’s Son Tasaduq Joins PDP, Vows to Clean up J&K Politics

Anger Against PDP in South Kashmir

As the election heat rises in Srinagar, where the National Conference patron Dr Farooq Abdullah is pitched against PDP’s Nazir Ahmed Khan for the parliamentary seat, south Kashmir is in no mood for elections. The parliamentary seat of Srinagar fell vacant in September, after PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra resigned from the party as well as the Lok Sabha.

Spokesperson of the South Kashmir Civil Society, Rao Farman Ali told The Quint, There is anger among the people in south Kashmir against PDP. In 2014 Assembly elections, the PDP, in selected belts of south Kashmir, had called for boycotting the RSS, indirectly referring to the BJP. In the end, they (PDP) not only got into the unholy nexus with the RSS, but are also defended them at every juncture. Most of the PDP members have become RSS spokespersons now for their personal benefits.”

Rao Farman Ali, Spokesperson, South Kashmir Civil SocietyPDP said that we will help the youth, but instead, they rewarded them with pellets and PAVA shells. Jammu and Kashmir has around 55 to 60 percent youth population which is angry with the PDP. They also failed miserably in maintaining peace in Kashmir.

However, rubbishing the claims that PDP is done and dusted, its spokesperson says that the party will win Anantnag constituency hands down.

PDP Chief Spokesperson and senior party leader Mehboob Beg says, People will vote for the PDP. We have now started to explain to our workers and the people what Agenda of Alliance (AoA) is about. AoA talks about talking to Pakistan and Hurriyat, but for talks, we need a conducive and peaceful environment first and 2016 was completely opposite to that.”

Also Read: In Kashmir, Hurling Stones Symbolises Taking a Shot at Azadi

Hurriyat Factor

Going by its tradition, the Hurriyat has called for a total boycott of the bypolls. If the percentage of votes polled is less, then the chances for PDP’s victory increases, as it will be easy for the ruling dispensation to turn the tables in their favour.

If the voting percentage crosses 40 on the given day, then PDP will be a big loser as higher the number of voter turnout, lesser are the chances of incumbent party emerging as winners.

However, if the Hurriyat does not call for the boycott of elections, it will mark a big change in their modus operandi since last 30 years. Perhaps the Hurriyat needs to introspect their strategy and rethink about their call for the boycott.

Also Read: Crisis After Burhan’s Killing Poses a Challenge for the Hurriyat

Security Concerns

There will be around 1,635 polling stations in Anantnag constituency, posing a tough challenge for the security personnel to manage polls given the scale of militancy in south Kashmir. During the first fortnight of March 2017, five encounters between militants and forces took place in Kashmir. Pulwama, Tral, Wachi in Shopian and Kulgam’s Homshalibugh assembly segments have been witnessing protests during gunfights between militants and the army.

54 additional companies of Central Reserve Police Force will be deployed in Anantnag and Srinagar parliamentary constituencies. Jammu and Kashmir Police have also deployed 25 companies in the two constituencies for smooth campaigning and conducting of elections.

A senior officer posted in south Kashmir told The Quint, “Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and some areas in Anantnag present a challenge to the security forces as well as politicians. However, we will try our best to ensure smooth conduct of elections in south Kashmir segments. People need not worry about security.”

Litmus Test for PDP

The April bypolls for two parliamentary seats will surely be the litmus test for the PDP. The ruling party is facing a daunting test for the first time in its 15 years of existence due to three reasons.

Firstly, it is for the first time that PDP is contesting any election without its founder, Late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

Secondly, after Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, such large numbers of youth have not been turned blind before as a result of pellet injuries in the history of Kashmir.

Thirdly, Tasaduq Mufti’s inexperience will also add to PDP’s woes.

Whether the PDP can pass the litmus test to win south Kashmir once again remains to be seen.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist. He can be reached at @DaanishNabi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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