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It's Muftis versus Abdullahs

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar | April 24, 2004 19:22 IST
Last Updated: April 24, 2004 22:19 IST

Arch rivals -- the ruling People's Democratic Party and the regional National Conference -- have been promising the sky to voters in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency.

Though there are 13 candidates in the fray, it is a straight contest between the NC and the PDP.

Omar Abdullah is seeking re-election from here for the third time but it is not just his fate that is at stake. Having been badly bruised by the PDP, created three years back, the NC's future as a political party is also at stake.

"It will be very difficult to keep the party in one piece if the NC is routed in the parliamentary election. The party badly needs a shot of adrenalin that only Omar's convincing victory can provide," said a Kashmir watcher here.

The fact that around Omar's victory are hinged both the political survival of the Sheikh dynasty as also the NC's viability as a party, is being seriously contested by the PDP.

Omar Abdullah and Farooq AbdullahMeeting after meeting, venue after venue, the rivals have launched scathing attacks on each other.

"The NC has a lot of explaining to do," said PDP president and star campaigner Mehbooba Mufti. "Stay cool. They are frustrated," Omar told his party workers.

The PDP is putting all resources at its command to garner support for its candidate Ghulam Nabi Lone, who belongs to the Central Kashmir Budgam district.

Omar and Lone carry unenviable baggage from their experience with the electorate here. While Omar lost to the PDP in the NC's pocket borough Ganderbal assembly segment, Lone lost to the NC in the Charar-e-Sharief assembly segment. Both assembly segments are part of the Srinagar constituency, for which Omar and Lone are locked in a fight to the finish.

"The PDP has not been able to move beyond promises. That is a fact, but the NC has a bad track record. That is why there is nothing like a wave in favour of the NC even though Omar has an edge over his rivals. Beyond his home district Budgam, Lone is a new face for voters in most segments," says Ghulam Nabi a college lecturer.

Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and daughter Mehbooba Mufti have been campaigning for the PDP, with Sayeed camping there for more than a fortnight.Omar Abdullah shouting slogans

This time luckily for Omar, his father and party patron Dr Farooq Abdullah leads the NC campaign from the front.

"Farooq knows that finally his political fortunes are intractably woven with his son's. Omar wouldn't go down alone this time. Farooq knows it for sure," said a family friend of the Abdullahs who did not want to be named.

Even when the two families are not directly locked in a contest in Srinagar, it is clearly a battle royale between the Abdullahs and the Muftis. The way both families have been gunning for each other at poll meetings, proves they wanted it to be like that.

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