March 2019 News

As Polls Near, Mood Sombre In North Kashmir

31 March 2019
The Tribune
Majid Jahangir

Baramulla: All along the busy 55-km Srinagar-Baramulla highway, which is dotted with populus trees, there is hardly any sign that shows the district going to poll in the first phase on April 11. Only a few billboards of National Conference Lok Sabha candidate from Baramulla Mohammad Akbar Lone can be spotted along the highway. The Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency comprises Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora districts and all share the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, making it vulnerable to infiltration. As the snow has started melting, militants will make attempts to sneak into the Valley. The three border districts going to polls on April 11 have many key infiltration routes. According to police officials, over 100 militants, a majority of whom are foreigners, are active in north Kashmir districts. Of the 15 Assembly segments in the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, Kupwara district has five segments - Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab, Handwara and Langate. Baramulla district has seven Assembly segments - Uri, Rafiabad, Sopore, Sangrama, Baramulla, Gulmarg and Pattan. There are three Assembly segments in Bandipora - Gurez, Bandipora and Sonawari. Some of the Assembly constituencies are remotely located and are cut off from the rest of the Valley in winter due to snowfall. The poll authorities will have a tough time ensuring that voters in the far-off areas are able to vote. Nearly 200 polling booths in the border constituency are snowbound at present. The areas like Machil, Keran and Karnah, Gulmarg, Uri and Gurez are still snowbound. Returning Officer for the Baramulla parliamentary constituency Ghulam Nabi Itoo said all necessary arrangements had been made for the snowbound areas. While the election mood in large parts of Baramulla and Bandipora districts is still subdued, campaigning in Kupwara is gaining momentum with each passing day. Political parties are holding rallies which are attracting large crowds. Unlike south and central Kashmir, the boycott will have the least impact in north Kashmir as some of the major traditional voting areas like frontier Kupwara district, Gurez in Bandipora and the border town of Uri fall in this constituency. North Kashmir's Baramulla Lok Sabha seat will be an open battlefield, where all political forces - National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party and the People's Conference - will try to emerge winners. The Baramulla constituency has traditionally been a bastion of the National Conference (NC). Since 1977, of the 11 Lok Sabha elections, the NC has won seven times followed by Congress, which has won the seat thrice, and the PDP has won only once. Kashmir's hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani had also unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary elections from Baramulla as an Independent candidate twice. In 2014, PDP senior leader and now patron Muzaffar Baig won the seat. Baig had contested the Lok Sabha elections from Baramulla thrice but lost all. This time, Baig is not contesting the polls this time and the party candidate is trade union leader Abdul Qayoom Wani. It will be a tough for the party to retain the seat. In a shift from the Congress-NC poll alliance in 2014, when the two parties had fielded Sharief ud din Shariq as the joint candidate, both parties are in a 'friendly contest' with each having fielded its candidate. The 2014 parliamentary elections saw nearly 40 per cent voter turnout in the constituency. Of the 15 Assembly segments, the PDP won 11 segments. In 2009, separatist-turned-mainstream politician Sajad Lone also had contested the Lok Sabha elections from Baramulla unsuccessfully. In 2014, though Lone didn't contest, his party candidate stood third. This time, the People's Conference, which has been pitching for an alternative to the regional parties NC and PDP, is eying the seat. Of the three districts, Kupwara has been showing an overwhelming response to voting. In 2014, Kupwara district recorded a voter turnout of 62.51 per cent. Bandipora polled 35.11 per cent, followed by Baramulla with a voter turnout of 24.95 per cent. The voting pattern is likely to remain the same this year.