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Lok Sabha polls: Srinagar sees a high octane campaign as no member of Abdullah family in fray

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/Srinagar

For the first time in 45 years, no member of the first political family of Kashmir –the Abdullahs – is in the fray from the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency that goes to the polls on May 13, in the fourth phase of the general elections.

The constituency has sent three generations of the National Conference founder National Conference Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s family–Begam Akbar Jehan, his wife, Farooq Abdullah, son, and Omer Abdullah, his grandson – to Lok Sabha.

Only in 1996, the Constituency had to go without a contestant from the first family of Kashmir due to the boycott announced by the National Conference.

Of the 24 candidates in the fray from this constituency, the key rivals are younger leaders – Aga Syed Ruhullah, 46, and Waheed ur Rehman Para, 34, of the Peoples Democratic Party of the Mehbooba Mufti.

Aga Syed Ruhullah is a Shia leader who has been elected to the Legislative Assembly from Budgam for three consecutive terms. He was also a Minister in the Omar Abdullah Cabinet.

]Waheed ur Rehman Para had fought and won the District Development Council (DDC) election from the jail where he was lodged in a case of terror funding – for which is out on bail – he didn’t take oath.  

Srinagar has sent stalwarts like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad (ex-Prime Minister of J&K), Shamim Ahmad Shamim, Begum Akbar Jehan, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah to the Lok Sabha.

After many years, the campaign for the elections is seeing a largescale engagement of the youth probably due to the fresh faces being in the fray.

“They carry along hordes of the youths including the first-time voters. There’s no major generation gap, no class variance between the key contestants and the electors. Both the key candidates run a part of their campaigns through social media. Both are remarkably active on Twitter and Facebook”, says journalist Faheem Tak.

Para says the involvement of the youth in the democratic process is across the five Lok Sabha constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir.

“August 2019 has drastically changed the situation. The separatist militancy has gone to the back burner. Their narrative has been neutralized. In all electoral campaigns before 2019, we felt ourselves in an alien land; excommunicated from our society (Due to boycott calls and threats issued by the separatists against elections). Today, there are no barriers. All the hate has been replaced by love. This is unprecedented”, Para told Awaz-The Voice.

Both Aga and Para are competing on the same ground– hardliners posturing against the Modi-led Union Government, against the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A and splitting of J&K into two Union territories which, they allege, amounts to “disempowerment of the Kashmiris”.  At times, they call the current elections a “referendum”(On these issues).

Para is an accused and is out on bail in a terror funding-related case. Aga is a victim of terrorism. His father was assassinated by militants in November 2000. Two of his security officers, a driver, and two civilians also died in the attack.

Interestingly, however, both the key contestants are equally trying to get the maximum of the so-called sentiment vote—of the people who once struggled for Azadi but are now speaking about safeguarding the “dignity, identity and empowerment of the Kashmiris within the Indian Constitution”.

Besides Aga and Para, the only person running a high-octane campaign is Apni Party’s Mohammad Ashraf Mir, a former minister.

For the first time since 1989, there are no boycott calls either from the militants or the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist organizations.

Since 1977, the Lok Sabha elections have been held 12 times in Srinagar. The NC lost only once—in 2014 when the PDP’s Tariq Hamid Karra defeated Farooq Abdullah. In 1996, Ghulam Mohammad Mir Magami of the Congress was elected as the NC did not participate in the Lok Sabha elections. 

In 8 of the remaining 10 elections which were won by the NC, the party’s winning candidates were members of Sheikh Abdullah’s family.

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In the 2014 Assembly elections, the NC suffered history’s worst setback in Srinagar when it was defeated by PDP on 7 seats—five in Srinagar and two in Budgam —and by independent Hakeem Yasin in Khansaheb. It also lost in the Lok Sabha elections.

 

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