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J&K: Mehbooba Mufti to Contest Lok Sabha Polls From Anantnag-Rajouri Seat

Mehbooba will be up against other political stalwarts from Jammu and Kashmir, including former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and veteran Gujjar and National Conference leader Mian Altaf, who has won five consecutive times from central Kashmir's Kangan assembly constituency.
Photo: X/@jkpdp

New Delhi: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president, Mehbooba Mufti, is going to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election from the remodelled Anantnag-Rajouri constituency of Jammu and Kashmir, the party said on Sunday (April 7).

The PDP’s youth president, Waheed Parra, is entering the poll fray from the Srinagar-Budgam constituency, while Fayaz Ahmad Mir, a former Rajya Sabha MP who recently rejoined the PDP after briefly flirting with the People’s Conference, is the party’s candidate from the north Kashmir constituency.

Addressing a press conference, senior party leader Sartaj Madni, who is a member of the PDP’s parliamentary board, said that party leaders had requested Mehbooba to contest the election from south Kashmir and that she has agreed.

“Our president will contest the election from south Kashmir (Anantnag-Rajouri) seat. From the central seat, we are fielding our young leader Waheed Parra, while Fayaz Ahmad Mir will contest from North Kashmir,” Madni announced.

Fielding questions from the media, Mehbooba said that she had reluctantly joined the poll fray to alleviate the suffering of the people of Jammu and Kashmir following the reading down of Article 370 in 2019.

“I was hoping that we could put a younger candidate, but Delhi is seemingly using all the powers it has to put up candidates directly and indirectly from south Kashmir. I am a fighter and I have accepted the challenge,” she said.

Mehbooba appealed to the Kashmiris, Gujjars, Paharis, Hindus and Sikhs to vote for a representative who can talk fearlessly in parliament about the issues faced by Jammu and Kashmir.

“It is impossible to speak up against the problems faced by people of J&K. Our own party leaders are being harassed. My uncle was hounded but they couldn’t find anything to implicate him, otherwise he would have been languishing in Tihar jail. This harassment should end,” the PDP chief said.

Mufti and PDP leaders address a gathering on April 7. Photo: Facebook/J&K Peoples Democratic Party.

Madni, who is Mehbooba’s paternal uncle, spent six months in preventive detention in 2021.

In 2018, he resigned from his post of PDP vice-president after his son and Mehbooba’s cousin, Aroot Madni, was named as executive officer of Jammu and Kashmir’s Khadi Village and Industries Board, which was then headed by a PDP leader.

Reacting to the claim of the National Conference’s vice-president Omar Abdullah that the Congress party was going to support National Conference candidates in the upcoming election in Jammu and Kashmir as members of the INDIA alliance, the PDP chief said that she had not supported the alliance with the hope of evincing the Congress’s support in the future.

“Jammu and Kashmir is passing through tough times. We have to work together to end the ongoing sufferings. I was not interested in contesting the election, but the atmosphere of oppression in J&K, where we are not even able to speak up, has forced me to try and become the voice of our people,” she said.

The National Conference and the PDP, despite being part of the INDIA alliance, had a bitter public spat in recent weeks before Mehbooba announced last week that her party was going to go solo in the upcoming election, which will commence on April 19.

Mehbooba will be up against other political stalwarts from Jammu and Kashmir, including former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and veteran Gujjar and National Conference leader Mian Altaf, who has won five consecutive stints as lawmaker from his traditional Kangan assembly constituency in central Kashmir.

Former PDP leader Zaffar Iqbal Manhas is contesting on a ticket of the Apni Party, which is led by another former PDP leader and businessman-turned-politician, Altaf Bukhari.

Also read | J&K: National Conference’s Decision to Contest 3 Lok Sabha Seats Exposes Fissures Within INDIA Bloc

Manhas is believed to enjoy the support of sections of the Pahari community in some areas of Rajouri and Poonch.

Jammu and Kashmir had six Lok Sabha seats – three in Kashmir, two in Jammu and one in Ladakh – before the erstwhile state was downgraded into a Union territory.

Now, there are two-and-a-half seats each in the Kashmir and Jammu divisions, while Ladakh is a separate Union territory with one Lok Sabha seat.

The Anantnag constituency, which will go to polls on May 7, was redrawn following the delimitation exercise in 2022.

Rajouri and Poonch districts, which were part of the Jammu constituency, were merged with the Anantnag constituency in Kashmir, purportedly to achieve parity in the parliamentary representation of Jammu and Kashmir’s two distinct divisions.

According to political observers, Mehbooba will be banking on her party’s traditional vote bank in south Kashmir, from where she has been elected to parliament twice – once in 2004 and next in 2014.

South Kashmir, which is home of the Muftis, is also widely believed to be a PDP stronghold that helped the party come to power in the last assembly election, which was held in 2014.

“The party has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, but Mehbooba’s candidature will naturally boost the morale of the cadre and workers. However, it remains to be seen how the party will reach out to the tribal populations, which will play an important role in deciding the fate of the candidates,” a senior political analyst based in Srinagar said.

Also read | J&K: How the BJP U-Turned on Tribal Empowerment After Article 370 was Read Down

Altaf, the National Conference’s candidate against Mehbooba, is a former Jammu and Kashmir minister and a veteran Gujjar leader who belongs to a respected Sufi family from Ganderbal’s Kangan.

He is eyeing to capitalise on his status in the Gujjar and Bakkerwal communities, most of whom live in Rajouri and Poonch and who have remained politically and religiously loyal to the Mian family for decades.

Altaf’s father and the revered Gujjar leader Mian Bashir Ahmad won from the Kangan seat in the 1967, 1972 and 1977 elections. Mian Nizamuddin, Altaf’s grandfather, contested and won the seat in 1957 and 1962.

Altaf won the assembly election from Kangan in 1987, 1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014.

Besides, former Congress leader Azad, president of the recently floated Democratic Progressive Azad Party, is also in the fray.

“The biggest issue is that we are a Union territory. I fought for statehood in the Rajya Sabha when Article 370 was abrogated. I want to fight in the Lok Sabha too. My first battle in the Lok Sabha would be for the reinstatement of statehood,” he said recently.

The Anantnag-Rajouri constituency has been subject to political engineering in recent years and it will be one of the hotly contested seats in Jammu and Kashmir.

The ruling BJP has reached out to the tribal populations by reserving seats in the assembly for Scheduled Tribes for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir’s history, while the long-pending demand of tribal status for Paharis, who have been dubbed as the new ‘kingmakers’ of Jammu and Kashmir, was also fulfilled.

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