March 2017 News

Hurriyat-backed Boycott Could Decide Crucial Anantnag, Srinagar Seats

31 March 2017
Firstpost
Ishfaq Naseem

Srinagar: The boycott call issued by the Hurriyat Conference will determine the winning chances of candidates in the electoral fray for the two crucial parliamentary seats of Srinagar and Anantnag - where bypolls will be held on 9 and 12 April respectively. On the Srinagar seat, the contest will mainly be between former chief minister and National Conference (NC) president, Farooq Abdullah, and Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Nazir Ahmad Khan. While on the Anantnag seat, Tasaduq Mufti, brother of state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, is pitted against Congress candidate and party's state president, GA Mir. The Anantnag parliamentary seat has traditionally been a PDP stronghold, but, in the 2014 elections, the party had lost some seats to NC and Congress. Now, in the current bypolls, the PDP strongholds could see a reduced voter turnout as a result of the fierce pro-militant protests in the area - due to which, several election rallies were called off. The pitch for boycotting the elections has only grown stronger with the government forces engaging with militants in daily gun-battles. Srinagar bypolls. Representative image. AP Representative image. AP Incidents of militant attacks on police parties and weapon snatching have continued unabated in the past one week. Police have picked up a large number of youth involved in incidents of stone pelting, even as many Hurriyat activists remain in detention under the Public Safety Act. A police campaign against the use of social networking sites saw close to 70 youth detained in the last one week - for fanning pro-boycott sentiments on social media. Earlier, police had arrested six militants in Kulgam, from whom a large haul of weapons was recovered. The police had claimed that the militants had planned to disrupt the polls. In the Anantang seat, the PDP is represented by its MLAs from the constituencies of Pulwama, Rajpora, Shopian, Pampore, Tral, Bijbehara, Anantang, Kokernag, Noorabad, Dooru and Wachi. All of these Assembly segments have seen spates of violence over the last eight months of unrest in the Valley - triggered by the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. People even turned to burning of police stations and razed down camps of the security forces in protest to the civilian killings. At Noorabad, thousands marched and razed down the police station, looting a large number of police weapons. While at Hasanapora in Bijbehara, a security forces' camp was pulled down by people in protest to the civilian killings. Even in the Anantnag constituency, represented by Mehbooba, a large number of people were injured by pellet guns. The NC-Congress coalition is represented by four MLAs on Pahalgam, Homeshalibugh, Devsar and Shangus seats. The effect of the protests was relatively lesser in these segments. Mir said that PDP will lose the Anantang seat, in view of the growing resentment among people about the way it has handled the unrest in Kashmir. 'Even now, the killings continue unabated,' he said. Similarly, the pro-boycott fervour has picked up in Srinagar after Tuesday's gun-battle at Chadoora - in which one militant and three civilians were killed. Following the encounter, incidents of stone pelting were reported from different parts of the city, particularly the old downtown areas - which remain separatist strongholds and have traditionally shied away from the polls. Srinagar's city areas have traditionally voted for the NC, but, due to the slipshod response of former chief minister Omar Abdullah's government during the Kashmir floods, it has lost many of its seats. A boycott in Srinagar could only further dent the winning prospectus of the PDP, which is already facing internal dissensions, as many of the party candidates were not accommodated as ministers in the Mehbooba government. The anti-incumbency factor against the ruling PDP-BJP dispensation and the trend among the people of Ganderbal and Kangan to vote could also go in favour of the NC. The resentment shared by former ministers Mohammad Ashraf Mir and Javed Mustafa Mir against Mehbooba, for failing to accommodate them in the council of ministers, could also work in NCs favour. NC could capitalise by cornering a larger Shia votebank as it is represented by Shia leader Aga Ruhulla from Budgam and has fielded former minister, Aga Mehmood, as a candidate for the legislative council seat. In Srinagar, former PDP MP Tariq Hameed Karra's switch to Congress could only help strengthen Abdullah's chances to romp home. Abdullah had lost the 2014 Parliament elections to Karra, who, however, resigned from the seat during the pro-freedom protests, blaming the ruling PDP-BJP alliance of committing excesses on people. Mehbooba resigned from the Anantang Lok Sabha seat and got elected as MLA. The current political situation in that state is a throwback to early 1990s, when the militancy had started in Kashmir. Due to militancy in 1991, the Parliamentary elections couldn't be held. In the 1996 elections, NC boycotted the polls and the contest was mainly between Congress and Janta Dal. People had alleged that the security forces in the state had used coercive means to ensure that they come out to vote. The voter turnout remained low in both the 1998 and 1999 elections, due to the boycott calls given by separatists. After the 2004 elections, the Anantang seat was retained by either Mehbooba or NC's Mehboob Beg, who is now PDP's chief spokesman. The Srinagar seat was either retained by Omar Abdullah or his father Farooq in the elections held prior to 2014. Now, in these elections, even as most of the separatist leaders are under detention, they have asked people to boycott the polls. Democratic Freedom Party chairman, Shabir Ahmad Shah, said that the elections are a sham and that people should desist from participating in the polls. Shah and other Hurriyat leaders - including chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Awami Action Committee chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq - have been put under house detention. 'The participation of people in elections would be a sell out for all those youth who laid down their lives in the struggle against Indian occupation,' Shah said.

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