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J&K CM has a point to prove in bypolls
A M Sofi in Srinagar
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April 05, 2006 13:00 IST

Jammu and Kashmir [Images] Chief Minister Ghulam [Images] Nabi Azad has a point to prove when bypolls are held in four Assembly constituencies in the state on April 24.

Firstly, Azad himself is contesting an election -- from Bhaderwah -- for the first time in his long political career.

Secondly, this is the first opportunity to test the people's mood since Azad became the chief minister as the head of Congress-People's Democratic Party-led coalition government in November 2005.

Besides Bhaderwah, the other three constituencies which go to polls on April 24 are Pattan, Sangrama and Rafiabad.

Azad, who is not a member of either Houses of the state legislature, has to contest the poll within six months after taking over as chief minister on November 2, 2005.

Bhaderwah was vacated by Azad's kin Mohammad Sharief Naaz.

The Rafiabad and Pattan seats fell vacant after the sitting legislators Mohammad Dilawar Mir and Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari quit main opposition National Conference and joined PDP and the bypoll in Sangrama was necessitated after the killing of former Education Minister Ghulam Nabi Lone by militants.

Political observers in Srinagar [Images] said the bypoll is a big test for National Conference to test its popularity after having been voted out of power in 2002 Assembly polls.

The Rafiabad seat had been won by Mir in 2002 on a Janata Dal ticket and he had later joined NC. The Pattan seat had been won by Ansari on a Congress ticket and he too switched over to NC.

Both Mir and Ansari this time are expected to contest from Rafiabad and Pattan on PDP tickets, making it almost a straight fight between PDP and NC.

For NC, stakes in Bhaderwah are equally high because its candidate Mohammad Aslam Goni had emerged a runner up in 2002 poll.

The observers feel if NC is able to win two of the four seats it may demonstrate that the party headed by young Omar Abdullah has not suffered major erosion and if it wins three seats, it would be indicative of its regaining lost ground.

Ties betweeen coalition partners Congress and PDP have been under strain as Congress is keen to contest two of the four seats while PDP is adamant on fielding its candidates from Rafiabad, Sangrama and Pattan and leave only Bhaderwah constituency for Congress. 

Senior Congress vice president and member of Legislative Council Abdul Gani Vakil has publicly said he would contest from one of the three Valley seats, come what may.

Though PDP pockets of influence in Bhaderwah constituency of Jammu is very limited, its candidates in Rafiabad, Pattan and Sangrama may find the going tough in case Congress puts up candidates or does not lend support to its candidates, the observers said.

Another issue which is likely to surface in the run up to the bypoll relates to dissensions within PDP.

At least in Sangrama, internal feud may crop up in case PDP does not give the party ticket to the son of slain minister Ghulam Nabi Lone who was killed in a suicide attack by militants in 2005.

Lone had won the Sangrama seat for PDP in 2002 Assembly polls.

Prominent dissident PDP leader Ghulam Hassan Mir has been toying with the idea of supporting Lone's son from the constituency.

If PDP does not field Lone's son, NC has a plan to support him even if he enters the poll arena as an independent.

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