A keen contest for Kashmir's Anantnag Lok Sabha seat

Anantnag, April 22: Opposition PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti is locked in a bitter electoral battle with ruling NC candidate Mehboob Beg in this south Kashmir Lok Sabha constituency.

Of the 16 assembly segments in the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) MLAs represent 12, the Congress two and the National Conference (NC) and the CPI-M one each.

Mehbooba Mufti and her father, the former union home minister and state chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, hail from the Bijbehara town in Anantnag district. Mehboob Beg also hails from the same district.

For the PDP, victory for its president and star campaigner is not just the question of winning a Lok Sabha seat, at a subliminal level, it is a litmus test of the party's relevance in its political bastion.

That is the main reason the NC has chosen to give its best shot to ensure that its candidate Mehboob Beg retains the seat for the party.

Beg won the 2009 Lok Sabha election from here.

NC and the Congress are jointly fighting the Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir and senior NC leaders including Social Welfare Minister, Sakina Itoo and Congress Minister G.A. Mir have been camping in the constituency, spending more than 10 hours daily to garner support for Beg.

NC supporters insist that those who believe victory is a foregone conclusion for Mehbooba Mufti are living in a fool's paradise.

PDP supporters react, saying their president would win the seat hands down.

It is this no-holds-barred fight between the NC and the PDP that makes it a straight contest in Anantnag despite the fact that there are 10 more candidates in the fray.

The campaign ends Tuesday evening amid accusations and counter accusations.

NC patron Farooq Abdullah and president Omar Abdullah have been visiting Anantnag to hold election rallies, perhaps more vigorously than they are doing elsewhere.

The NC believes if Mehbooba Mufti is routed at the hustings, snatching Anantnag with 16 assembly segments from the PDP would be easier during the state assembly elections scheduled later this year.

The verbal volleys went up when the PDP blamed the NC for the murder of one of its village headman, who was killed by gunmen last week in Pulwama district.

The NC leaders said the headman was killed because he was likely to join their party.

A total of 1.27 million voters would pick the winners April 24 when they cast votes at 1,615 polling stations being set up by the election commission in the four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama.

Given the security considerations and the fact that militancy is far from over in this constituency, the election authorities have declared 675 polling stations as hyper sensitive, 685 as sensitive and 265 as normal.

As many as 150 companies of central armed forces and 40 companies of state armed police in addition to over 5,000 police personnel posted in the four districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam are being deployed to ensure free and fair poll in Anantnag constituency.

Separatists have appealed for a boycott of the polls while hardliner Syed Ali Geelani has called for civil curfew April 24 when the constituency goes to vote.

Given the past record, voters in rural areas of this constituency have completely overlooked separatist boycott calls, while cities and towns have been impacted by these calls.


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