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Doda-Udhampur to see major Modi Ka parivar vs INDIA faceoff

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/Srinagar

In Jammu’s Udhampur-Doda constituency, the traditional arena of electoral battles between Rajputs, the Congress party’s prodigal son Choudhary Lal Singh has returned with a fresh challenge for the BJP stalwart Dr Jitendra Singh. Lal Singh rejoined the Congress recently, 10 years after quitting it.

With successive victories for the BJP’s Dr. Jitendra Singh, the Medical college professor-turned-politician who rose to become a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office for 10 years, the party is seeking a hat trick victory from the hilly Lok Sabha constituency.

The constituency for some strange reasons has been represented by people of Rajput caste, e.g, Dr. Karan Singh (Congress), Choudhary Lal Singh (Congress), Dr. Jitendra Singh (BJP), and Prof. Bhim Singh (Panthers’ Party). This time, against Lal Singh and Dr Jitendra Singh are from the same community

Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh will have polling on six constituencies in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Five fall in the UT of J&K and one in Ladakh. So far BJP and the Congress have declared candidates only in Udhampur-Doda and Jammu-Reasi. 

BJP’s Jugal Kishore is also hoping to record a hat trick victory from the Jammu-Reasi seat. He is pitted against Raman Bhalla of Congress.

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) has fielded former Congress Minister Ghulam Mohammad Saroori from the Udhampur-Doda segment.

Significantly, neither the National Conference nor the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have fielded their candidates from Udhampur-Doda or Jammu. The last date for filing nominations for the constituency was March 27.

As part of the INDIA bloc, the NC and the PDP should be supporting Lal Singh. Lal Singh and another minister from BJP Chander Prakash Ganga were asked to resign in the wake of their open support for the campaigners for the perpetrators of the murder and rape of a eight years girl in village Rasana. Lal quit BJP to proptest against his party’s inability to save his job as Mehbooba Mufti asserted as leader of the BJP-PDP coalition goivernment.

By conventional wisdom, Saroori may get a  big chunk of the Muslim votes and thus harm the Congress. It’s also estimated that his presence will help BJP. “If he cuts away around 50,000 of the opposition vote, the game is over for Lal Singh”, said local journalist Faheem Talk.

Talk says, “Saroori has been Azad’s senior colleague all through his Congress years in Doda. Azad has represented Bhaderwah for one term in the J&K Assembly and Saroori has won from the Inderwal assembly constituency thrice. These factors will play out but will matter only in case of a close contest between the BJP and the Congress”.

So far Congress has won from Doda-Udhampur 10 times, the BJP 5 times. Before Jitendra Singh, Prof. Chaman Lal Gupta, who was the MOS Defence in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, represented the constituency for three terms.

Lal won an Assembly seat for the first time in 1996 as a Congress (T) candidate. Later he joined Congress and won the seat of Basohli in the 2002 elections. Lal is no lightweight as he defeated BJP’s Chaman Lal Gupta and Dr Nirmal Singh from the Doda-Udhampur constituency in the 2009 and 2014 general elections respectively. 

Lal joined the BJP in 2014 and his support helped a political greenhorn and an outsider Dr Jitendra Singh give a crushing defeat to Azad in 2014. 

However, Lal’s tryst with the BJP was short-lived as he had to quit following the Rasana episode. He quit BJP in protest against his removal from the government.

Ironically Jitendra and Azad, who were rivals in the 2014 elections are now seen as ‘allies’ Lal is pitted against the combine.

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Lal may be locking horns with a veteran today but Lal is supported by the combined strength of the Congress, the NC, and the PDP. “He (Jitendra) is BJP’s face in J&K. His defeat will be seen as Modi’s and (Union Home Minister) Amit Shah’s defeat. It will be our most important achievement in the post-370 era”, said a senior NC leader. 

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