Mehbooba Appears Set To Reclaim Family Bastion

23 April 2014
Times of India
Sameer Arshad

Srinagar: People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti's plunge into the electoral fray from South Kashmir's Anantnag has made it a keenly-watched contest in the Valley as it votes on Thursday. Anantnag has been PDP's stronghold, where its first family - the Muftis - comes from. PDP strengthened its grip over the area winning 12 out of 16 assembly segments in 2008. The constituency stretches from the world-famous saffron fields of Pampore near Srinagar to the Himalayan Pirpanjal foothills. PDP's predominance in these seats could well be a double-edged sword and local anti-incumbency may go against the party. Some voters confirmed this and complained about absentee PDP legislators. 'We have not seen our MLA in the last five years,' said a resident of Anantnag, where people complain of lack of development despite it being on the route to Jammu and Amarnath. PDP appears confident of overcoming irritants, banking on a higher turnout and Mehbooba's connect to wrest its stronghold from arch-rival National Conference (NC). But killing of three people in the run-up to the polls here could be a spoiler for PDP. Mehbooba has accused NC, which has just two legislators from South Kashmir, of orchestrating the violence to hurt PDP. 'They (NC) have lost face and think if people come out to vote they will lose their deposits. They have resorted to the gun now ... and hired a few people to spread terror in PDP strongholds. Low turnout suits them,' Mehbooba said at Tral after meeting the family of a Sarpanch, who was killed there with his son on Monday. 'Why have no such incidents taken place in NC areas?' she asked. The reported presence of dozens of militants in the area has accentuated fears of violence and forced authorities to declare 83% polling booths in Anantnag sensitive and hypersensitive. Mehbooba's main rival, NC's Mehboob Beg (65), is seeking re-election on the basis of his performance in Parliament and to strengthen the country's 'secular democracy'. NC has made PDP's 'secret alliance with BJP' an election issue and targeted Mehbooba for her 'lack of performance' in Parliament. 'When she was asked to speak in Parliament on the Amarnath land row (in 2008), she insulted the state, laughing and saying 'main kya bolun yaar',' CM Omar Abdullah told a rally.