Kishtwar, with history of communal tension, will test the Bharatiya Janata Party's poll strategies of polaristaion, development and Modi factor. It's one of the 12 assembly constituencies in the Jammu region, where Muslim population is slightly higher than the Hindus and the BJP plans to consolidate Hindu vote and scrape through with division of the Muslim votes.
As of now, the contest is between the NC's sitting MLA and incumbent minister, Sajjad Ahmad Kitchloo and BJP's Sunil Sharma. The biggest advantage for Kitchloo is that it could be considered his family bastion. His father had earlier represented the seat three times and he himself is now contesting for the third term. His family had traditional support among a section of the Hindus, especially in Paddar area, and Buddhists.
However, he has been blamed as a main player for the last year's violence, though he was given a clean chit by the judicial commission. Even though, it has dented his image.
However, what could work for him this time also is that the PDP has dropped its last time candidate Asgar Ali, who had got about 10,000 votes. The PDP has given ticket to political greenhorn Firdous Tak, a former journalist.
The Congress, strangely, has never put strong candidate here and this time it has given mandate to Nek Ram, who can't match the other contenders.
Political space is rife with rumours that both the PDP and the Congress didn't put up strong candidates because of tacit understanding with the NC.
The BJP's candidate has strong ground connection here. He had helped security agencies in anti-terrorism operations, which has brought the party in direct contact with the top leadership of the BJP. Even during last year's communal flare-up his role came out in open and the Muslims complained that because of his connection, the police did not take action against him.
With nearly 10% population edge, the constituency has always been represented by a Muslim.
In the absence of the BJP earlier, the National Conference and the Congress had a good support base here. The BJP emerged as a strong contender in the last elections, though it lost by a margin of about 2,000 votes.
There has always been undercurrent of division among the communities here. In last year during communal tension when three people were died and even the Parliament discussed the situation, the polarisation was only widened. The Hindu votes which traditionally went to the NC and the Congress, have been now consolidated by the BJP here.
It has also made some inroads into the Muslim areas by bringing in some members of this community into its fold. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal and his emphasis on inclusive approach has bridged the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims to some extent. Even a slight shift of the Muslim votes could give the BJP an advantage here.
Kisthwar is one of the remote areas of the state. The district which borders Leh, has not been well connected with roads. In the past, it attracted trekkers from all over the world. It has one of the most scenic spots in the state. But this potential has never been explored.
Except during the chief ministership of Ghulam Nabi Azad, not much attention was paid on its development. Kitchloo, himself, has started focusing on it at the fag end of his tenure. These factors could be exploited.
As of now, it's tight contest with die evenly cast. Like in the past, this time too, the winning margin could be quite narrow. The BJP plans to narrow down the winning margin and the NC plan is to widen it. The result will be a cliffhanger with the potential of altering political landscape.
NC: Sajjad Ahmad Kitchloo,
BJP: Sunil Sharma
2008 assembly polls results
Winner: Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo (NC) secured 19,248 votes while BJP candidate Sunil Kumar Sharma secured 16,783
Main issues: road connectivity, communal tension
Total votes: 68,974
Polling date: November 25 (phase 1)