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Why Omar Abdullah's Nomination from Baramulla Is a Strategic Gamble

Aside from the fact that he will take on Sajad Lone, the constituency also has a significant population of Paharis, who the BJP wants to woo.
Omar Abdullah at the Bharat Jodo Yatra last year. Photo: X/@OmarAbdullah

New Delhi: The National Conference (NC) has taken a strategic gamble by announcing the candidature of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and party vice-president Omar Abdullah from Baramulla constituency which is set to go to polls on May 20.

The election will be a direct face-off between Omar and Peoples Conference (PC) president Sajad Lone who is hoping to secure his first victory in parliamentary election from his home constituency which mostly includes Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara districts of north Kashmir.

Without naming Lone, Omar said that his fight was not against the PC chief, “My (electoral) fight is not going to be against any individual but the powers who stand behind him and support him,” he said, ostensibly implying the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

He added: “My party wants me to contest from North Kashmir because the BJP and the Union government are focussed on this constituency and I want to defeat them in north Kashmir itself.”

The announcement of Omar’s candidature, which was made by the NC President Farooq Abdullah, defied earlier speculations that the party vice-president was contesting from Srinagar constituency which is presently represented in the Lok Sabha by his father.

The party sources said that senior Abdullah has decided to take a break from active politics for some time but he will continue to lead the party.

Sajad Lone right) in a photograph from 2022. Photo: X/@sajadlone

Post-delimitation landscape

The number of assembly constituencies in Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency increased from 15 to 18 after J&K’s delimitation in 2022. The delimitation exercise, which was necessitated by J&K Reorganisation Act 2019, increased the number of assembly seats in Jammu and Kashmir from 83 to 90.

While Kashmir got only one new assembly seat after the delimitation, six new seats were carved out in Jammu, the stronghold of the BJP.

Trehgam, the new assembly segment carved out in Kashmir, falls in Baramulla constituency. Two assembly segments – Budgam and Beerwah – which were part of the adjoining Srinagar constituency, were also clubbed with the Baramulla constituency, taking the total number of assembly segments to 18.

Of these 18, the PDP won seven in the 2014 assembly election followed by the National Conference with four seats and Congress and PC with two seats each. Awami Party leader Engineer Rashid, who is languishing in Tihar jail, was also elected from Baramulla’s Langate assembly constituency.

However, in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370, the PDP, which was the leading party in 2014 assembly election in north Kashmir, suffered a series of setbacks with several leaders such as the former ministers Dilawar Mir and Imran Reza Ansari quitting the party.

Mir, whose son Yawar Mir was elected from Rafiabad assembly constituency on the PDP mandate, joined the Apni party led by Altaf Bukhari, a former PDP leader and Srinagar-based business tycoon. Javed Hussain Baig, the PDP’s face in Baramulla, also recently joined the National Conference.

Another key PDP leader and Shia leader, Imran Raza Ansari, who was elected on the PDP mandate in 2014 assembly election from Pattan assembly segment, is now in the PC led by Lone along with Abbas Wani, the PDP’s lawmaker from Gulmarg constituency.

Electoral equations

In recent years, both the National Conference and Peoples Conference have widened their electoral base in the north Kashmir constituency which has a significant population of Shias who vote for their religious leader during the time of the election.

While Ansari, who is also the vice-president of PC, enjoys widespread support among the Shias, the addition of Budgam assembly segment, which is the bastion of Aga Ruhullah, another Shia leader and three time lawmaker, to Baramulla constituency, will weigh heavily on Lone’s performance.

Also read: Is the ECI and Union Govt Passing the Buck on Jammu and Kashmir Polls Post-Delimitation?

A senior NC leader and the party’s Lok Sabha candidate from Srinagar constituency, Ruhullah was critical of his party’s actions in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370 which earned him widespread support across the political spectrum in Jammu and Kashmir.

Also, Omar was elected consecutively in 2009 and 2014 assembly elections from Beerwah, the second assembly segment of Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency which is now part of Baramulla constituency.

The Baramulla constituency also has a significant population of Paharis, a linguistic minority in Jammu and Kashmir who were recently granted tribal status by the Union government. The saffron party is wooing the Paharis who live in some pockets of Baramulla and Kupwara districts to change its political fortunes in Kashmir Valley.

Besides, the nomination of Awami Party’s jailed leader, Engineer Rashid, who was arrested by the National Investigations Agency on terror funding charges, from Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, will add more spice to the electoral contest.

The Bukhari factor

The desertion of Dilawar Mir from the PDP and Usman Majid from the Congress, and their entry into Apni Party will make Bukhari one of the key players in Baramulla constituency. Rumours are already doing the rounds that Bukhari may put his weight behind Lone but the official announcement in this regard has not been made yet.

Both Bukhari and Lone are widely believed to enjoy the support of the saffron party. Senior BJP leader Tarun Chugh and Lone met Bukhari at the latter’s party headquarter in Srinagar last week but the outcome of the meeting was not known. Even though the BJP is politically absent in North Kashmir, the three parties are in the midst of forming an alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

While Omar has projected the election as his party’s battle against the BJP, the Peoples Conference has frequently accused him of being the saffron party’s first ally in Jammu and Kashmir, citing his ministership during the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has also been accused of purportedly holding talks with the BJP after 2014 assembly elections for forming a coalition government with the BJP, a charge denied by the National Conference.

By taking the battle to Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, Omar seems to be confident about his party’s prospects in the home turf of Lone who hails from Kupwara district. On the other hand, the Peoples Conference president is banking on the new electoral equations to pull the rug under Omar’s feet and secure his first Lok Sabha victory,

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