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J&K’s ‘Battle Royale’ to be fought in Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat

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Shillong, March 18: As the battlelines start becoming clear in the five Lok Sabha seats in J&K, the most interesting to watch is going to be the south Kashmir Anantnag-Rajouri constituency.

This is the only Lok Sabha constituency in J&K that is spread over both the Jammu division and Kashmir with the most diverse mix of communities and voter affinities.

The constituency includes the two districts of Kashmir, including Anantnag and Kulgam, and two districts in Jammu division, including Rajouri and Poonch. The voter mix is as diverse as the topography of the constituency.

Spread over the plains of Anantnag district known as the rice bowl of Kashmir to the limits of the Valley’s mountains in Pahalgam hill station, Kokernag, mountainous terrain of Kulgam and the rugged, tough and challenging borderlines of Poonch and Rajouri districts, the constituency is running close to the Line of Control (LoC).

The constituency has a varied class of voters, including the Kashmiri speaking Muslims of Anantnag and Kulgam with influential Gujjari speaking Muslims of Pahalgam, higher reaches of Kokernag right up to Daksum and the foothills of Kulgam district.

The two districts of Rajouri and Poonch with a very large number of Gujjar and Pahari communities will finally decide the winner and loser in this constituency.

The reach and popularity of the fighting candidates is undoubtedly not going to be universal in this varied mixture of voters and communities.

There is hardly a single leader of any political party that can safely be picked up as the winner in this constituency despite the influence of the National Conference (NC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Congress and the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Each of these parties has an appreciable presence in this constituency, but none with such a presence that would make victory a foregone conclusion.

It is under this background that the NC has decided to put forth its most powerful Gujjar/Bakarwal leader, Mian Altaf Ahmed into the arena.

Mian Altaf Ahmed is not just the political leader of the Gujjar/Bakarwal communities in the four districts of this constituency, he is also the most respected religious leader of this community.

For the last four generations, spread over Mian Altaf’s great grandfather down to his father, late Mian Bashir Ahmad, reverently called the ‘Baba Sahib’ (The great father), Mian Altaf sits on a legacy of lethal power against his opponents. Each year on the annual Urs at his ancestral seat in Wangat village of north Kashmir Ganderbal district, thousands of Gujjars/Bakarwals from every nook and corner of Poonch and Rajouri districts and other parts of the UT converge to pay obeisance at the shrine.

The ‘Nazrana’ (Devotional offerings) offered at the Wangat shrine includes cash, cattle, sheep and goats whose value runs into crores of Rupees each year. The devotees come to the ‘Peer’ every year at Wangat.

Very cleverly, the NC has decided to send Mount to Moses by fielding Mian Altaf Ahmed. Instead of Moses coming to the Mount as do the Gujjars/Bakarwals in thousands each year to Wangat shrine. The party is definite to announce Mian Altaf’s candidature for the constituency any time soon.

Sources close to Mian Altaf told IANS that his consent has already been sought and after the request was made to him by both Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, the Mian had no option other than consent.

With the NC fielding Mian Altaf Ahmed, the BJP is now seriously considering the choice of his opponent. One big advantage the BJP has in Poonch and Rajouri districts is the recent announcement of ST status for the Pahari community.

Statistics show that the Pahari community has over three lakh voters in these two districts. The Paharis are committed to vote for the BJP as their 70-year long demand was fulfilled by the BJP government at the centre.

Among Gujjars and Hindus living in these two districts of Poonch and Rajouri, the BJP also has supporters whose votes would definitely favour the BJP candidate.

Given the fact that any reconciliation between the NC and the PDP is now out of the question, Kashmiri speaking Muslim voters in Anantnag and Kulgam would surely cut into each other in this constituency as the PDP is likely fielding a powerful candidate to avenge its disgrace by the NC.

The NC dumped the PAGD without even asking the PDP chief, Mehbooba Mufti. Sources close to her indicate that despite maintaining a low outward resistance, Mehbooba Mufti will not take the left-handed compliment of NC sitting down.

Ghulam Nabi Azad does not have any formidable presence in this constituency, but together with the Congress, Azad can play the spoilsport for the PDP and the NC.

Given these permutations and combinations, much will now depend on who the BJP chooses to field in this constituency.

The ‘Battle Royale’ is decidedly going to be between NC’s Mian Altaf Ahmad and the BJP.

With the scale heavily loaded in favour of the senior Gujjar/Bakarwal leader, the BJP will have to field a formidable stalwart to take the legal mixture of politics and religion represented by the Mian head on.

In a nutshell, the most interesting electoral battle in J&K is going to be fought in the south Kashmir Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha constituency. (IANS)

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