SRINAGAR: Baramulla parliamentary constituency will see a multifaceted competition in the upcoming elections with strong contenders of National Conference (NC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) facing a serious challenge from some new faces.
The constituency—the last one to go to polls from the Valley on May 7—has been a stronghold of NC, with the party having won the seat two out of the three times in the past. In 2009, NC’s Sharief-ud-Din Shariq was declared winner, succeeding Abdul Rashid Shaheen who had been elected as Member of Parliament in 2004.
Both times, however, the party had faced serious challenge from PDP, the other major regional pro-India party in the Valley. PDP’s Nizam-ud-Din Bhat was the runner-up in 2004 Lok Sabha polls as he bagged 9895 votes less than Shaheen. And in the last parliamentary election, PDP’s Mohammad Dilawar Mir was the runner-up to Shariq with a difference of 64,814 votes.
While difference between the parties’ vote share has only increased in the past, the two regional bigwigs of Kashmir’s pro-India politics are locked in a tougher competition this election.
Both NC and PDP have fielded strong candidates in Baramulla. Trusting the abilities and reputation of Shariq, NC’s choice for the contest in Baramulla has remained unchanged.
PDP has given mandate to Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, preferring one of its most trusted faces over other choices it had. Beigh, a native of Baramulla district, is a sitting member of the state Legislative Assembly, and has emerged as a prominent face of PDP in the recent past.
Between the parties, therefore, it is the competition between sitting MLA of PDP and the sitting MP of NC. And to their advantage, their respective areas of influence have not been very fond of boycott, previously. Shariq hails from Handwara in district Kupwara which saw impressive turnout in the previous assembly and Lok Sabha elections. And so have most parts of Baramulla, the strong belt of Beigh.
Presuming that turnout in Kupwara and Baramulla will remain high, as has been the trend previously, the boycott may not have much role to play in the deciding the winner.
NC may, however, be at a slight advantage with Congress not fielding its candidate on Baramulla seat. If elections results of 1996 are any indicator, Congress had its share of support. Ghulam Rasool Kar of Congress was declared successful from Baramulla in the tainted elections of 1996, with a margin of 64,981 votes. By staying away from the competition, Congress is, by default, supporting NC in Baramulla. The seat sharing may prove to be a strong factor in deciding the fate of NC and PDP candidates.
The competition isn’t limited to NC and PDP alone, though. This time, Awami Itihaad Party (AIP) and People’s Conference (PC) are a major challenge to both NC and PDP.
AIP’s president Engineer Abdul Rashid is among the major contenders for the seat given the political energy he has been displaying since he became the MLA Langate in Kupwara. The confidence Rashid has gained over the years was perhaps the reason for this otherwise independent politician to constitute AIP. And it is this confidence that may have motivated Rashid to contest the parliamentary elections as well.
PC has fielded an ex-government of India official Salaam Bajaad instead of Sajad Lone, the party’s chairman who was expected to contest the elections himself as he did in 2009. If the locals are to be believed, Bajad, also from Handwara, enjoys some support and is capable of causing an upset.
The introduction of new faces makes Baramulla an interesting contest for sure. Whether NC, PDP steal the show or new faces emerge victorious will, however, be decided on May 7 when the constituency goes to polls.