Once a ‘royal’ constituency in Kashmir, today faces neglect

Udhampur (Jammu and Kashmir), April 21 (Inditop) People in this Lok Sabha constituency of Jammu and Kashmir, once represented by scion of the Dogra royal family Karan Singh, are a disgruntled lot because of the “neglect” they have faced for decades.

Politician, author, diplomat and former Sadr-e-Riyasat (president of the state), Karan Singh represented the constituency for four consecutive terms – 1967 to 1980 – cashing on his royal status and commoners’ devotion to the Maharaja’s family.

Some voters are believed to have even stuffed currency notes into ballot boxes for their loved leader who was born as the yuvraj (crown prince) – an heir-apparent to the last ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh.

In 1984, Karan Singh contested from Jammu-Poonch constituency and lost. The Udhampur Lok Sabha segment has since been represented by senior leaders of the two national parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). From 1980-1989, G.L. Dogra of the Congress represented this constituency and was succeeded by Dharam Pal Sharma of the same party till 1996.

BJP’s Chaman Lal Gupta then got elected thrice – 1996, 1998 and 1999 and the Congress’ Chaudhary Lal Singh won in the 2004 elections.

But the high profile leaders have changed nothing for the people here, say locals.

Anyone who walks into villages of this constituency can easily identify the problems of the people here.

One of the most backward areas, this constituencies suffers bad road connectivity and high unemployment rate despite rich water resources of the river Chenab, hydro-electric projects, untapped sapphire mines and one of the most visited Hindu shrines of Vaishno Devi.

“Nothing has changed (in this constituency),” laments Balwant Singh, a resident of Kishtwar.

“Rather things have worsened,” said Singh, a government employee, adding job opportunities have decreased.

“Youth used to get daily wages by working in jungles but now that too has stopped,” he said referring to Doda and Kishtwar districts which have the richest forest cover in the state.

Vaishno Devi shrine, which attracts over 7.5 million pilgrims every year, is keeping the economy of Katra area going. But pilgrims would usually prefer to shop in Jammu city and also hire transport there to reach the hill temple.

Once voted to power, politicians always neglect the constituency, says Dhian Singh, a university professor.

Spread over six districts in the Jammu division of the state with an electorate of over 13.6 lakh (1.36 million), this constituency is going to the polls April 23.

There are 15 candidates in the fray. The Congress has fielded its sitting MP Lal Singh. And pitted against him are the BJP’s Nirmal Singh, Peoples Democratic Party’s Balbir Singh, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Rakesh Wazir and Panthers Party’s Bhim Singh.

The constituency witnessed a low key campaigning and barring Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Kathua April 14, there has been no big election meeting.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who campaigned for ruling partner Congress’ Lal Singh in Udhampur and Reasi districts, could not attract any big crowds.