For the first time in five decades, Kashmir’s north-eastern constituency of Kangan, 90km from Srinagar, will see the Mian clan’s Mian Altaf, state’s incumbent forest minister and senior National Conference leader, face a formidable challenge.
The consolidation of Kashmiri-speaking voters, outnumbering his support base of Gojri-speaking population, besides the five-decade anti-incumbency, fuelling a sense of monopolised politics, has put Altaf on a sticky wicket.
Gujjar voters, who pledge loyalty to the shrine of the Hazrat Baba Jee Sahib Larwi at Baba Nagri area, central to the Mian clan, did witness a split but historically favour Altaf. His suave and soft-spoken image also earned goodwill for law graduate Altaf, who has been on a winning streak since 1987. Altaf’s grandfather Mian Nizammudin had won the seat in 1957 and then in 1962. Altaf’s father Mian Bashir Ahmed, a spiritual leader of Gujjars, continued with streak in 1967, 1972 and 1977. This time, Altaf is in for a tough battle against PDP’s Bashir Ahmad Mir.
Altaf witnessed the first erosion of his support base during the Lok Sabha polls when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) took a lead of 3,607 votes from his segment. However, Altaf as state forest minister may have been able to rope in some non-Gujjar voters to bridge the numerical gap with the PDP.
The biggest failure of Altaf has been a free-for-all opening of the tourist place of Sonamarg.
It’s during his tenure that Sonamarg turned into a concrete jungle, where from top bureaucrats to retired cops own hotels. Locals allege rules have been flouted to allow massive construction in the area, which has visible impact on ecologically crucial glaciers like Thajwas. Unemployment and lack of basic amenities in upper reaches continue to haunt the constituency.
But Kangan did see expansion of road network in the past six years, which helped people from upper reaches to connect with the urban pockets for employment and addressing health issues.
‘PDP made inroads, but we will still win’
As NC’s Mian Altaf faces a formidable challenge in family bastion Kangan in Kashmir, HT asked him some questions that remain central to his and his party’s fate:
Do you see a pro-PDP wave?
The PDP has made inroads but the results will be in our (NC’s) favour. In 2008, PDP was blown away by the NC. People are the best judges and they will vote after going through my performance.
What are your achievements?
There has been development of health infrastructure like new maternity hospital, power projects, water supply schemes to all, and road connectivity to 95% population. Kangan was given a degree college. Gund was given block and tehsil status. Timber smuggling and encroachment of forest land was brought to zero, particularly in Shopian and Pir Panchal range.
What still remains the biggest challenge in the constituency?
Providing job opportunities for educated unemployed is a challenge. While new posts are being created on a regular basis, vacancies in various departments have also been filled.