Sharifuddin Shariq of the ruling National Conference (NC) represents the ‘volatile’ north Kashmir constituency of Baramulla, which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
The constituency, spread over militancy-affected border districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora with 15 assembly constituencies, has a cross-section of political opinion. The upcoming Lok Sabha elections will have very little to do with development, and more with politics that unfolded in the past one year.
The 2013 execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, who was a native of Sopore area of the constituency, will loom large over the polls.
The prevailing sentiment in the area is that the NC-Congress alliance did nothing to save Guru, even though the NC leadership has repeatedly denied being a party to the decision.
Acknowledging the public anger, Shariq knows that it will not be easy for him to retain his seat. In the 2009 elections, he scored an easy win over Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Mohammad Dilawar Mir, but he has a lot to worry about this time.While his party has already announced that it would seek re-election for him, Shariq feels it would be a tough fight. "No elections are easy, but I am hopeful of winning," he says. "I will seek re-election on the basis of my party’s performance and the administrative reforms we have done during our rule."
The constituency is not a cakewalk because of the underlying separatist sentiment in certain pockets. Sopore has been a stronghold of hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Some pockets of Baramulla town, besides Palhalan and Pattan, have also been his turf. In towns such as Handwara, Bandipore and Kupwara, separatist sentiment is still alive and militancy prevails too.
Key seat for PDP
The main opposition party, the PDP, is leaving no stone unturned to win the prestigious Baramulla seat. Fielding one of its strongest candidates, Muzaffar Beg, the party is planning to capitalist on the simmering anger combined with the anti-incumbency factor.
“Both parties (NC and Congress) were responsible for Guru’s execution. With Beg sahib’s nomination, the contest has become easy,” said PDP spokesman Nayeem Akhtar.
The NC, meanwhile, is hoping that its alliance with the Congress would help to contain the inroads made by the PDP in the Valley and by the BJP in Jammu.
“Loyalist votes of the NC-Congress might be able to make some difference; otherwise the PDP looks strong,” said a senior NC leader.
In case former separatist and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone decides to contest, it will be a three-cornered contest. Lone has a strong base in the frontier Kupwara and Handwara regions.‘Absent representative’
Many people in the constituency complain that Shariq was never seen in the area. According to his detractors, he was present only when some senior leader held rallies.
There is still a big question mark over development in the area. Electricity and roads are major issues. Under-development and unemployment remain key planks too.
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Kumari Selja, Ambala