Anantnag (Jammu and Kashmir), April 29 (Inditop) Polling in this Lok Sabha constituency Thursday will indicate which way the wind is blowing – whether people in the Kashmir Valley are willing to defy election boycott calls by Hurriyat separatists and armed guerrillas to come out and vote.
Anantnag is, after all, the first parliamentary constituency in the valley and one of the largest to go to the polls. The south Kashmir constituency is spread over 16 assembly segments in four districts. And the key to success for contestants lies in the voter turnout.
Once heavily infested with separatist guerrillas, Anantnag today is believed to have far fewer militants. But the separatist leaders of both the Hurriyat groups and armed guerrillas have called for a poll boycott this time.
“During assembly elections, the militants did not actively interfere. But this time all the armed groups are issuing a warning. I fear this could affect voter turnout in many places,” said a voter.
A total electorate of 1.16 million – made up of 611,958 men and 553,993 women – is eligible to exercise their franchise at 1,485 polling stations across the constituency to elect their representative for the Lok Sabha.
In the December assembly polls, the voter turnout here was 58 percent.
“Local issues dominate assembly polls and this makes people’s participation more vigorous than in the Lok Sabha. Generally, we have always seen a lower poll percentage in comparison to assembly elections in our constituency,” said Manzoor Ahmed, a voter.
In the assembly battle, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headed by former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed won 12 of the 16 seats here while the Congress won two. The National Conference and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) bagged a seat each.
This Lok Sabha constituency is a stronghold of the PDP. But undeterred by statistics, the ruling National Conference-Congress alliance has launched an all-out campaign to dislodge the PDP.
Congress general secretary and star campaigner Rahul Gandhi visited Anantnag Monday and urged voters to elect the National Conference nominee Mirza Mehboob Beg.
Though there are 13 candidates in the fray, the main contest is going to be between the National Conference and the PDP.
The PDP has fielded Peer Muhammad Hussain. Both Mufti Sayeed and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, have been travelling across the constituency to seek votes for him.
National Conference patron and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah has accused the PDP of doublespeak and of trying to play the emotional card to garner votes.
The PDP has used more or less similar statements, blaming the National Conference for the woes of the people of Kashmir.
Additional police and paramilitary troops have been moved into the four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama, which form this Lok Sabha constituency.
The Election Commission has appointed three observers to oversee the smooth and transparent conduct of the poll process.
Jammu and Kashmir has a total of six Lok Sabha seats, of which three are in the Muslim-majority valley.