In a contest between BJP & United Opposition, a friend-turned-foe holds the key

As BJP’s Jugal Kishore seeks re-election riding the strong Modi-wave, up against the Congress’ mass leader Raman Bhalla supported by Valley’s two biggest parties, it is Lal Singh, with past connections with Congress and BJP, who has the potential to shift the balance in Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary Constituency which goes to polls on Thursday, the April 11.

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The elections in Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary Constituency will be held on Thursday, the April 11.
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The Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary Constituency has traditionally been a bastion of Congress but ever since the arrival of BJP on the scene of political prominence, the Constituency has oscillated between BJP and Congress.
Congress has sent its leaders to the Parliament from 1962 to 1996, barring the year 1977 when Thakur Baldev Singh was elected the Member of Parliament from the constituency. However, in the Lok Sabha elections of 1998, BJP’s Vishno Datt Sharma wrested the power from Congress’ Mangat Ram Sharma and was re-elected in the year 1999.
Congress again won back the constituency when its candidate Madan Lal Sharma was elected from the seat in the General elections of 2004 and 2009, before losing the seat again to BJP’s Jugal Kishore Sharma in 2014, who had won by a big margin.
If the victory of National Conference’s Chowdhary Talib Hussain in the by-polls necessitated in 2002 following Vishno Datt Sharma’s death is kept aside, since 1998, the constituency has given mandate to Congress and BJP, alternatively, for two terms each.
Going by the same trend, incumbent Jugal is likely to win over the one of the two seats from the Jammu region, banking on the massive Modi wave which had helped the saffron party emerge a clear winner from the constituency in the Assembly elections of 2014.

Riding the Modi-wave

Sitting MP from BJP, Jugal Kishore Sharma

The 56-year-old enjoys good rapport in Jammu district and its surrounding areas. A Rashtriya Swamyamsewak Sangh (RSS) worker, Jugal’s political graph only rose ever since he entered politics.
He won the 2002 and 2008 assembly elections from Nagrota and even served as BJP’s state unit chief before he denied Congress heavyweight Madan Lal Sharma the third consecutive term in Parliament, defeating him by a huge margin of 2.57 lakh votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, contributed significantly by the Modi-wave.
However, it was not only his election that was boosted by Modi. In last five years, his voters are not very happy with him, even as Prime Minister’s Development Package for J&K has come to his rescue time and again, giving the MP Jugal significant projects to boast about in his performance card.
The fact that all four districts in his constituency lie close to either International Border or Line of Control, seemed to help Jugal as BJP in centre has projected itself to have been paying attention toward the miseries of border dwellers, with border bunkers, dedicated battalions and proposed Seema  Bhawans its result.
However, if seen solely, Jugal’s performance as the people’s representative can at best be termed ‘average’. And that is visible on ground.
Some of the recent videos have shown public confronting Jugal for his “absence” in these five years, while vowing to vote for him “only to ensure Narendra Modi gets another term in country’s top job”
“We will vote for you, but only because of Modi,” says a man in one such video.

United Opposition

Supported directly by NC and indirectly by PDP, Congress’ Raman Bhalla is expected to give a tough fight to Kishore.

The Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary Constituency spans over 20 assembly segments in four districts. After clean sweeping both the parliamentary seats in Jammu region, the BJP also captured 13 assembly seats of 20 in this constituency in 2014, with PDP and NC bagging three each, and one going to Congress.
As things stand five years later, BJP’s one former legislator has shifted the boat to Congress, while National Conference has allied with Congress even a People’s Democratic Party has decided not to field its candidate in a bid to “consolidate the secular vote”.
Putting these numbers in 2014 frame, the contest now becomes a close one between BJP’s Jugal Kishore and united opposition’s Raman Bhalla.
Congress’ Raman Bhalla is well known face of the party among masses, particularly in Jammu. He rode the same wave in 2002 to become MLA from his home constituency of Gandhi Nagar and served as minister in the PDP-Congress coalition government.
Notwithstanding the anti-incumbency wave after the Amarnath land row, he retained his seat in 2008 by defeating BJP’s stalwart Dr Nirmal Singh.
A law graduate from Jammu University, Bhalla is known for accelerating developmental work in his constituency, utilizing the developmental funds to their last bit.
In 2014 General Elections, Congress’ Madan Lal Sharma had bagged 3,62,715 votes, which is what Bhalla considers already in his kitty, while exploiting unpopularity of his BJP rival to wrest the power from him.
That the major regional party of Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference is supporting Bhalla is an added bonus, even as PDP’s decision of not fielding its candidate from the Constituency will also benefit Bhalla.
For the record, PDP’s Yashpal Sharma had polled 1,68,554 votes in 2014 Lok Sabha elections from this constituency.

The Friend-turned-Foe

Two-times MP and two-times MLA Chaudhary Lal Singh has remained a member of both BJP and Congress, before forming his own DSS.

While the contest on Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary Constituency largely remains between Jugal and Bhalla, the one person who has the potential of shifting the balance is Choudhary Lal Singh. Lal has a history with both BJP and Congress. As a Congress leader, Lal was elected as an MLA from Basholi constituency in 1996 J&K Assembly elections and retained his seat in 2002.
In 2004, he was elected as MP from Udhampur constituency, again retaining the seat in 2009. However, when he was denied party ticket during 2014 elections, Singh parted ways with Congress and joined BJP in August 2014 and won the assembly elections from Basohli.
His association with party not remained long as he floated Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan after he was forced to resign as the minister in the cabinet for attending a rally in the support of Kathua-rape accused.
The hardliner representative of Dogra pride, Lal has consolidated his support among the Dogras which has helped him carve out his own unique space in Jammu politics.
Lal’s persona as the flag bearer of Dogras in Jammu—particularly after his role in the aftermath of the sensitive Rasana rape and murder incident and his persistent demand for a state holiday on the birth anniversary of Maharaja Hari Singh—the last ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, makes him the decisive factor in the battle being fought between Jugal and Bhalla.
Lal has the potential of shifting the balance; which way, cannot be predicted.

 

Profile of the Constituency
The Jammu-Poonch Parliamentary Constituency comprises of four districts: Jammu, Samba, Rajouri and Poonch. These border districts—former two along International Border and latter two along the Line of Control—has a total electorate of over twenty lakh, with men taking the lead over women by odd eighty-thousand. Of the 20,05,734 voters, 10,40,876 are male voters, 9,64,838 are female voters and 20 are transgenders.
Among these four districts, Jammu is the most important one as it has the highest share of the voters at 53%, more than all the voters combined in the other three districts. The total number of voters in Jammu district stand at 10,72,013, followed by Rajouri (4,20,718), Poonch (3,07,371) and Samba (2,05,632).
There are 20 assembly segments in this Parliamentary Constituency from assembly constituency 68-87.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP had leads in 17 of these segments, while in the assembly elections that followed later that year, the saffron party captured 13 seats of 20 in this constituency, with PDP and NC bagging three each, and one going to Congress.
The assembly constituencies won by BJP included Samba, Vijaypur, Gandhinagar, Jammu East, Jammu West, Ranbir Singh Pura, Suchetgarh, Marh, Raipur Domana, Akhnoor, Chhamb, Nowshera and Kalakote.
The National Conference won in Nagrota, Bishnah and Mendhar, while Darhal, Rajouri and Poonch-Haveli went to PDP, even as Congress registered its sole victory in Surankote.

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