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The battlefield of Kashmiri Pandits

December 20, 2008 13:06 IST

Kashmir Valley's Habba Kadal assembly constituency has virtually turned into an electoral battlefield of displaced Kashmiri pandits.

Coverage: Assembly Polls

A bastion of Kashmiri pandits, a record 12 displaced pandits of a total 21 candidates are trying their luck from Habba Kadal segment which goes to polls with 20 other constituencies in Jammu, Srinagar and Samba districts in seventh and final phase of elections on December 24.

"This is the largest number of pandits fighting elections in any of the segments this year and also among the previous elections in Jammu and Kashmir," state election department officials said.

Political parties like Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party, Lok Jan Shakti party, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party and Jammu Kashmir Democratic party have given mandates to Kashmiri pandit candidates while National Conference and PDP has fielded Muslim candidates.

Situated on the banks of Jhelum in the heart of Srinagar, Habba Kadal constituency is the only segment in Kashmir Valley where pandit votes would be a deciding factor in sending one of the 21 candidates to the 10th legislative assembly.

Among them 12 Kashmiri pandits fighting elections are banking on 27892 strong migrant vote bank of a total of 51934 voters.

Traditionally a National Conference stronghold, there will be a multi-cornered contest with candidates relying mainly on migrant votes from places outside the Valley in Jammu, Udhampur and Delhi.

Among the front runners for the seat are former minister Raman Mattoo, who is contesting as an independent candidate and locks horns with Hira Lal Chatta of BJP, Moti Lal Koul of Congress, Sanjay Saraf of Lok Jan Shakti party, Shameema Firdos of NC and Abdul Hamid Bhat of PDP in the multi-cornered contest.

Mattoo, who won elections in 2002, seems to be on a weak wicket due to his arrest in Kashmir sex scam, which rocked the Habba Kadal belt- the focal point of the scam in 2006.

Mattoo has been viewed as pro-community for the welfare steps he took as a minister in Congress-led PDP coalition government in 2002.

He is facing a tough challenge from BJP's Chatta, who is riding high on the wave of Amarnath land row and several measures for the community on the educational front.

Chatta had polled 416 votes in 2002 and lost to Mattoo by 171 votes as constituency polled just 7.99 per cent votes in 2002 in view of the boycott call by separatists Hurriyat Conference.

"I am hopeful to score victory this time also keeping in view the scorecard of my work for the community," Mattoo told PTI during campaigning in Muthi camp in Jammu.

Like him, Chatta of BJP was more optimistic of his victory, as he said: "I have worked for the community for past 20 years. I initiated relief measures during the migration and undertook various welfare measures for the community. I am hopeful that I will win this time."

Sanjay Saraf of Lok Jana Shakti party, who is also in the fray from the constituency and stood third in 2002 elections, has taken to door-to-door campaigning in Kashmiri pandit areas and migrant camps in Jammu.

"I have support of both local Muslims living in the constituency and migrants living outside. I have worked for both of them during past few years. I am hopeful of winning the seat this time," Saraf said.

In 2002 elections, 9 Kashmiri pandit candidates out of 11 were in the fray and independent candidate Mattoo had won.
The assembly constituency has 51,394 electorate (26,327 are male and 25,067 are female voters). Around 60 polling stations have been set up in the constituency.

Anil Bhat in Jammu
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