Fight for Central Kashmir may not be one sided

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The Srinagar constituency, which is broadly divided into three sub regions – Ganderbal, Srinagar city & Budgam, is predominantly home to ethnic Koshur speaking Kashmiri community, which is spread all over Central Kashmir. There are few scattered communities of Gujjar & Bakarwals, who live in Harwan, located in the suburbs of Srinagar city and in Kangan area near picturesque Sonmarg valley. There is also a small community of Pathans, who live in Gutlibagh area of Ganderbal. The Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is also home to substantial Shia population, who primarily inhabit Budgam district as well as Zaidbal colony near the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar city.

Since the inception of the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in 1967, the seat has been largely represented by representatives from the National Conference party including Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and three members of Abdullah family – Begum Akbar Jehan, Farooq Abdullah & Omar Abdullah. In fact, the father son duo of Farooq and Omar Abdullah initiated their respective political “baptism” from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency only. Unlike North & South Kashmir, where the National Conference has shrunk drastically and reduced to being a minor political player, the NC continues to remain major player in Central Kashmir.  The National Conference, in fact won 7 out of its total 15 seats in 2014 assembly elections from Central Kashmir only. Both Farooq Abdullah & Omar Abdullah have won Srinagar Lok Sabha seat three times each.

And yet, the dominance of the NC has been seriously challenged by the emergence of the PDP, which has made major inroads in Central Kashmir. In last assembly elections in 2014, the PDP emerged victorious in 7 seats in Central Kashmir, matching the number of seats won by the NC in the Central part of Kashmir valley. The PDP performed much better in assembly segments of Srinagar city. The icing on the cake of PDP’s stupendous performance in Central Kashmir was the prize catch of Srinagar Lok Sabha seat by Tariq Hameed Kara, who imparted Farooq Abdullah, the first political defeat of his career by defeating him with a margin of over 40,000 votes.

A lot of things have changed since 2014. There is perceptibly less enthusiasm for Lok Sabha elections this time and calls for poll boycott are expected to have far greater impact this time than in 2014. And yet the election hinges primarily upon two factors – firstly, the participation of Shias of Central Kashmir & Gujjars of Ganderbal and secondly the participation of the cadre and supporters of Jamat-e-Islami organization. Mr. Farooq Abdullah and his son have largely been winning Srinagar Lok Sabha seat due to their loyal supporting base of Gujjar community of Kangan and a section of Shias of Budgam, with rest of Central Kashmir including the densely populated segments of Srinagar city largely boycotting the election.  This combination of expecting mass boycott and strategic cultivation of Gujjar and Shia votes has ensured victory for Abdullahs for last 25 years.

In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Tariq Hameed Kara – “the giant killer” is not fighting the election as he has since then resigned from PDP and joined Congress, which is supporting Farooq Abdullah. The PDP has instead given mandate to a Shia leader Aga Syed Mohsin, who polled in little over 16,000 votes in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and stood third. Sajjad Lone’s People’s conference, which has no base in Central Kashmir has given mandate to Irfan Raza Ansari, the younger brother of Imaran Raza Ansari – the influential Shia leader from Pattan in North Kashmir. The BJP, which is making its first serious attempt at fighting any Kashmir based Lok Sabha election has fielded Khalid Jahangir, a high-profile Kashmiri Muslim leader of BJP, who is running a high-octane media campaign for his candidature.

Despite such a crowded list of candidates, most political analysts feel that Farooq Abdullah will “easily” win the election in the absence of any “formidable” opposition. But nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, Gujjar community no longer votes as a monolithic entity. National Conference’s practice of keeping religious head of Kangan based Gujjar community happy in order to win “all” Gujjar votes is not expected to work as younger generation of Gujjars are much more diverse in their voting preference rather than “obeying” a dictate. The PDP has also made a lot of inroads in Gujjar community over last few years and they might benefit from that.

Similarly, Shias of Central Kashmir, who are being wooed by all parties, may not also vote as a monolithic block. If anything, a section of Shias of Budgam, who have been voting for Farooq Abdullah, may actually vote for Aga Syed Mohsin, who already has a steady following in the Shia dominated parts of Budgam district. Lastly, if the cadre and supporters of Jamat-e-Islami in Ganderbal, who do not traditionally vote for the NC come out for voting even in moderate numbers, that will give a very tough fight to Farooq Abdullah too. And if for some reason, people from assembly segments of Srinagar city, where PDP dominated last time, come out for voting even in slightly more numbers, then Farooq Abdullah will get a fight of his life. Either which way, we shall soon come to know as to which way the wind will blow in Central Kashmir.

The writer, JAVAID BEIGH  is a Political Activist and aspiring Politician, who has worked as PRO to Ex CM of J & K. He holds MBA & MPA degrees, besides having many years of corporate work experience at some of top Fortune-500 companies like INFOSYS TECHNOLOGIES BANGALORE. The writer can be reached @ [email protected]

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