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|August 26, 1999||
In Srinagar, they do it behind masks
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
With masked -- yes, masked -- National Conference workers putting up banners and buntings in Srinagar city, the ruling party in Jammu and Kashmir has started its campaign for the first phase of polling.
The masks, you see, are to prevent identification and reprisals from separatists.
"They monitor what we do and they will try to harm us," a worker told rediff.com.
In the Srinagar constituency, the most prestigious among the six in the state, the main fight will be between Youth National Conference president and Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah's son Omar Abdullah and the newly formed People's Democratic Party's Mehbooba Muftiu, who is the daughter of former home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Though there are 10 candidates in the fray including representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and Awami League, only the NC has put up banners.
The Congress has fielded the prominent Shia leader Agha Sayed Mehdi, who secured 73,770 votes in the 1998 Lok Sabha poll. Mehdi has pockets of support in the Shia-dominated areas in Srinagar city and Budgam.
Omar Abdullah had won in 1998 with 144,609 votes. He has an edge over the Congress and PDP and is likely to retain the seat in view of his stronghold in the two assembly segments of Kangan and Ganderbal (Dr Abdullah's constituency).
The PDP appears to be concentrating on Budgam and Srinagar. Mehbooba Mufti has been visiting homes to personally ask for votes.
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, meanwhile, has intensified its anti-poll campaign. Its leaders are visiting various areas asking people to boycott the poll. Observers feel that the call may have effect in parts of the constituency.
Election Commissioner G V G Krishnamurthy said special security arrangements have been made in the 987 polling booths, the majority of which fall in the hypersensitive and sensitive category. On September 5, 853,183 voters will cast their vote.
The state government has provided the candidates what it claims is 'foolproof security' during campaigning. However, the BJP alleges that the NC leaders are misusing the state machinery. "It is ironic that the NC buntings are made of plastic which was banned by this government in Srinagar city," a BJP leader said.
The NC's answer is, well, some answer: "Plastic buntings don't get damaged in rains. That is why we are using plastic instead of cloth."
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