Mehbooba Mufti faces a tough battle for political survival in hotly contested Anantnag-Rajouri | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Mehbooba Mufti faces a tough battle for political survival in hotly contested Anantnag-Rajouri

ByMir Ehsan
May 25, 2024 12:15 AM IST

Despite a postponed polling date and intense campaigning, Mufti remains hopeful, leveraging voter turnout and support from her home districts.

Stakes are higher than ever for former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti contesting her fourth parliamentary election from the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat, once a stronghold of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Srinagar: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President and candidate from Anantnag-Rajouri seat Mehbooba Mufti during a press conference, at party headquarters in Srinagar, Saturday, May 11, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI05_11_2024_000048A)(PTI) PREMIUM
Srinagar: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President and candidate from Anantnag-Rajouri seat Mehbooba Mufti during a press conference, at party headquarters in Srinagar, Saturday, May 11, 2024. (PTI Photo) (PTI05_11_2024_000048A)(PTI)

Apart from Mufti, twenty other candidates are trying their luck from the seat which has witnessed high-pitched campaigning, with leading candidates, PDP chief Mufti, National Conference’s (NC) Mian Altaf and Apni Party’s Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, locked in a triangular contest. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) didn't field a candidate from the seat but is supporting Manhas, which the saffron party’s leaders term are calling a strategy to “end the “dynastic rule” in J&K.

Even before campaigning went into full swing, tensions ran high in the constituency after the Election Commission (EC) shifted the polling date to May 25 (in the sixth phase) citing “various logistic, communication and natural barriers of connectivity turning out as hindrance in campaigning which … (is) tantamount to lack of fair opportunities for the contesting candidates”.

Before the decision, the EC was approached by BJP’s Ravinder Raina, People Conference’s Imran Reza Ansari, Apni Party’s Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari, and Democratic Progressive Azad Party’s Mohammad Saleem Parray, along with two independent candidates, Ali Mohammad Wani and Arsheed Ali Lone to defer the polls. Meanwhile, the NC and the PDP rebuked the decision.

With over 18.30 lakh voters, the constituency has a substantial vote bank of Gujjars and Paharis. The constituency, which spreads across the Pir Panjal range, including the Rajouri and Poonch areas in Jammu along with Anantnag in south Kashmir, has 18 assembly segments of which 11 fall in the Kashmir province.

This is Mufti’s fourth parliamentary election from Anantnag Lok Sabha's seat after being elected to Parliament after being elected from the seat in 2004 and 2014. In 2019, Mufti came second after NC candidate Hasnain Masoodi won the seat amidst a low voter turnout, signalling a lull in the PDP’s influence.

Alleging that the ruling dispensation doesn't want Mufti to secure this seat and denied her a level playing field, PDP youth president, Waheed ur Rehman Parra, said, "For her, this is a very important election and we are motivating voters not to boycott polls. A higher turnout will definitely help Mehbooba Mufti to secure this seat and if she wins everybody knows the former CM will again talk about the people’s issues in Parliament.”

Even Iltija Mufti, Mehbooba Mufti's daughter, has jumped into the poll fray, campaigning for her mother across Anantnag- Rajouri. "As a party worker I am trying to establish a bond with voters especially women folk in the constituency," said Mufti.

The PDP is hoping for a voter turnout similar to the Baramulla parliamentary seat, which witnessed 59 percent voting on Monday. A high voter turnout could be a game changer for Mehbooba Mufti, especially in her home turfs of Anantnag, Shopian and Kulgam districts.

Meanwhile, NC leader Mian Altaf Ahmed is eyeing the Gujjar and Pahari votes in the constituency. Former CMs Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah are spearheading Altaf’s campaign.

In a rally on Wednesday, Omar Abdullah reiterated his claim that the BJP is contesting through proxies in J&K. In an interview with HT, Abdullah said, “In the south Kashmir seat, influential Pahari leaders from Poonch have announced the BJP support to Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). This election has been good because it has unmasked all the BJP proxies.”

Abdullah also described the Apni Party as the B team of the BJP. While both PDP and NC are part of the Opposition’s INDIA bloc, two major partners the Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) are the NC candidate instead of Mufti, giving an edge to Altaf.

Apni Party’s Manhas is relying on the BJP’s support and Pahari vote bank besides banking on the support of former legislators and ministers on both sides of the Pirpanchal part of the Apni Party.

"This seat is especially important for Mehbooba Mufti. If she loses a second time, it's going to severely hurt her politically," said Abdul Hamid, a political analyst from south Kashmir.

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