Rahul Gandhi fails to create flutter in J&K

  • Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Nov 26, 2014 22:16 IST

As Jammu and Kashmir witnessed an impressive turnout for Phase-1 polls on Tuesday, what went almost unnoticed was Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's visit to the state to address rallies in Kupwara in north Kashmir and Poonch in Jammu division.

The Gandhi scion was in the state to seek votes for Congress candidates in these areas on a day when the fate of his party's seven sitting MLAs was being decided.

The fact that the visit could not create a flutter is a reflection of the party's state of affairs in these elections. Unlike previous elections, the grand old national party has failed to create much buzz in the state this time around.

The Congress, which has been playing the role of the kingmaker in the state for the past 12 years by becoming a partner in the coalition regimes since 2002, has an uphill task of managing a good show in the elections. The party had bagged 21 seats in the 2008 assembly elections.

However, the Congress and its coalition partner National Conference (NC) ended up with a 'no show' in the recent Lok Sabha elections wherein they lost all the six seats contested by them. This changed the political dynamics in the state.

The fact that Congress stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad lost to BJP's Jitendra Singh in Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency, was a big blow to the party.

As the BJP tries to cash in on its victory in the Lok Sabha elections, political observers feel that the fate of the Congress will be decided by about a dozen seats in Pir Panjal and Chenab valley in the coming elections. This area comprises the Muslim belt of the Jammu division, which is otherwise a Hindu-majority region.

According to the vote share figures during the Lok Sabha elections held in May, the BJP led in 24 of Jammu's 37 assembly segments. However, it fared poorly in seats which fall in the Chenab and Pir Panjal belt.

Banking on the strength of former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is a native of Bhaderwah, the Congress leadership claims they have an edge over others in the region.

"It's a tough fight but we are likely to retain all the seats we had held earlier and will add a few more to our kitty," said Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC_ president Saifuddin Soz.

Besides, the party is hopeful of a good show in a few seats in north and south Kashmir and Muslim-majority seats in Ladakh division like Kargil and Zanskar.

"The Congress was the only party which had a pan-state influence. It has been managing to get seats in all the three regions. What happens in this election needs to be seen," said senior journalist and former Reuters Kashmir chief Sheikh Mushtaq.

However, in an election where people are seemingly looking for a change what can cast a shadow on the party's electoral prospects is the fact that many of its former ministers and MLAs contesting elections have criminal allegations against them. While a number of its senior leaders contesting elections are being probed by the State Accountability Commission, the party also has two former anti-insurgents in the fray in the Valley.

To make the things worse, one of the party's candidates was allegedly caught on tape asking for sexual favours from a young girl recently. The person in question is a senior leader contesting from a north Kashmir seat.

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