As campaigning picks up for the three Lok Sabha seats from the Kashmir Valley amid boycott calls by separatists, the moot question is whether the voter will come out in force again like he did for the assembly elections. While the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are gunning for each other in the Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies, a keen triangular contest involving these two and Sajad Lone of the People's Conference will be witnessed for the north Kashmir seat of Baramulla.
The Lok Sabha elections will be held in the three constituencies April 30, May 7 and May 13.
Essentially 'common man issues' like employment, roads, safe drinking water, electricity and corruption are being highlighted during campaigning. But dynastic rule and resolution of the Kashmir issue are also being raked up to garner support from voters.
The ruling National Conference is promising a new developmental dawn in the state while the PDP has been focusing on what it calls a general sense of security among the masses during its rule.
Interestingly, the Abdullahs who are behind the National Conference and the Muftis who lead the PDP have been blaming each other for the miseries of the common Kashmiri. "The war of attrition between the Abdullahs and the Muftis is a sidelight that adds spice to the otherwise traditional campaigning," said a political activist here.
National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah says at election rallies: "They have always raked up emotional issues to blackmail voters. They blamed us for the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and actually did nothing during their rule to repeal it."
Taking a dig at senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani who has called for a boycott of the elections, Abdullah said: "He must learn a lesson from Sajad Lone and join the elections to prove how much public support he has in Kashmir."
Lone, pitched against the National Conference and the PDP in Baramulla, says he is joining the elections only as a change of strategy and not ideology. "I will carry the problems of the people to the Indian parliament and fight the system from within to get Kashmiris their basic right to determine their political future," Sajad said while explaining his move to join the elections.
The moderate Hurriyat group led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq is still busy working out its strategy of opposing the elections.
The boycott call by the joint co-ordination committee of the two Hurriyat groups in the December 2008 assembly elections virtually fell on deaf ears, with 63 percent turning out to exercise their franchise across the valley. "We are working on a midway course to oppose the elections and our decision would be made public shortly," a Hurriyat spokesman said here.
As against the December elections when the separatist groups promised not to use force against those who chose to vote, almost all such outfits have this time asked people to refrain from voting. "India used the voter turnout in December 2008 to justify its occupation of Kashmir. The people must now assert their will by staying away from the polls," the Pakistan-based United Jehad Council (UJC) of the separatist groups said last week.
But Abdullah said in response to the boycott call: "People will again come out in large numbers to defeat the separatists."
Winners and losers notwithstanding, all eyes will be on the voter turnout across the valley. "It doesn't actually matter whether the elections are won by this party or that. What remains to be seen is whether or not the separatist call for boycott is ignored again," said a Kashmir watcher here. "That would force the separatist overground leaders to take a serious look at their survival outside the election fold."