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|September 28, 1999||
Anantnag may see low voter turnout
Bashir Ahmad Soffi in Anantnag
Campaigning in the south Kashmir constituency of Anantnag going to the polls on October 4 has almost come to a halt after the killing of the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Ghulam Hyder Noorani and attempts on the lives of four other candidates.
Authorities have arrested more than a dozen All-Party Kashmir Hurriyat Conference leaders including its chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Ahmad Shah for their anti-election campaign which has largely affected the voter turnout during the first two phases of the election in the valley.
Following the murder of Noorani, the Election Commission had announced the adjournment of polling which was earlier scheduled for September 18 in the constituency.
The BJP has now fielded Showkat Hussain Wani, surrendered militant-turned-politician.
The 18-cornered contest also includes two former Union ministers - Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (independent) and Mohammad Maqbool Dar (Janata Dal-United), state Revenue Minister Ali Mohammad Naik (National Conference) and former state minister Peerzada Mohammad Sayed (Congress).
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, seeking re-election from the seat, Mohammad Maqbool Dar, Peerzada Mohammad Sayed and Peerzada Abdul Hamid (Janta Dal-Secular) escaped bids on their lives during the election campaign forcing their parties to play it safe.
Official sources said that a good number of heavily armed militants, mostly foreigners, have occupied the woods of Deksum, Kokernag, Achabal, Ahrabal, Shopian, Wadwan, Ahlangadwol and Pir Panchal ranges, bordering Doda, posing a serious threat to poll process.
Considerable increase in the militant activities, including mine blasts, have claimed the lives of more than 40 people including 20 militants, mostly foreigners, in the constituency since the August 21 election notification.
The very low voter turnout in Srinagar and Baramulla will leave its impact on polling in Anantnag, people in a number of assembly segments in the constituency said. They said that the polling this time will be comparatively poor as compared to the previous elections when more than 50 per cent voters had exercised their franchise.
The ruling National Conference, which suffered a drubbing last time at the hands of the then Congress candidate, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, persuaded the reluctant Naik to contest this time as Mohammad Yousuf Teng, a literary figure, had failed to woo the voters.
Mufti had made his maiden entry into the Lok Sabha from this constituency in 1996, mainly because of the work done by his daughter Mehbooba Mufti who resigned as MLA recently from the Bijbehara seat after leaving the Congress.
Another major factor, which helped Mufti last time and is likely to prop up his chances this time too, is his proclaimed reconciliatory policy regarding the militants.
Naik also has considerable influence in some assembly segments including his native Tral, which returned him to the assembly in 1967, 1972, 1983 (as independent) and in 1996 (NC candidate). He was the runner-up in the 1980 Lok Sabha poll as an independent candidate, bagging 95,050 votes against the 1,79,020 votes polled by NC candidate Ghulam Rasool Kochak.
The Anantnag constituency comprises influential pockets of hardliners, be it the Leftists or the Rightist Jamaat-e-Islami.
Besides, the surrendered militants, who continue to hold sway over people in parts of south Kashmir, could also be a major factor. The surrendered militants are divided into pro and anti-NC groups, the latter having put up their own candidate -- Ghulam Nabi Mir of the People's Patriotic Front.
Vote banks of Pandit migrants, Gujjar tribesmen and Paharis are also being cultivated by various parties.
The constituency was considered a stronghold of the Congress before the Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah-led NC entered the electoral contest in 1977 following the Sheikh-Indira accord of 1975.
In 1967, 1971 and 1977, Mohammad Shafi Qureshi of the Congress scored a hat-trick in the constituency. However, in 1980, G R Kochak won the seat for the first time for the NC while Akbar Jehan Begum, widow of Sheikh Abdullah, retained it for the NC in 1984. P L Handoo of the same party won the seat in 1989 when the opposition did not field anyone in view of the poll boycott by militants, which had resulted in two per cent voter turnout in the constituency.
Elections could not be held in the state in 1990 in view of heightened militancy. In 1996, when parliamentary elections were held in the state after a gap of nearly eight years, Dar of the Janata Dal defeated Congress candidate Taj Mohiuddin. The NC did not contest that election.
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