SRINAGAR: In Zadibal constituency, it is a straight fight between the incumbent legislator Afaq Peer of National Conference and debutant Molvi Abid Hussain Ansari who is riding a sympathy wave after the death of his brother and prominent Shia cleric Molvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari recently.
In this constituency, Peer, a first-time contestant then, won 2008 Assembly elections by a margin of 606 votes. Against Peer’s 4,600 votes, his nearest rival, PDP’s Shahjahan Dar got 3094. In 2002 elections, Dar had defeated NC veteran Sadiq Ali in his debut.
The general electoral atmosphere in this constituency has remained largely unchanged since elections were held for the first time in 1996, six years after the anti-India insurgency erupted. A sizable Shia and a small Sunni population votes, while the rest, mostly Sunnis, stay off elections in deference to call by resistance leaders.
In the previous two elections, Zadibal, Madin Sahab, Bota Kadal, Bhagwanpora and Gulshan Bagh, which have majority Shia populations, recorded a high voter turnout. It is believed that the voters of the minority religious group generally vote for a candidate from their own community, while the Sunnis who vote are National Conference loyalists.
The challenge before Abid and Peer, a Sunni, therefore is to woo the voters of each other’s community.
“A lot of development happened during my tenure. For example, a few health centers, several macadamised lanes and drains, five community halls and two sports grounds.
“I used to spend four days a week in the field with people. If people would judge me by my work, they will vote for me,” Peer told Kashmir Reader.
But Abdul Majeed, a resident of Madin Sahab, said that it was Abid, not Peer, who listened to their problems and installed streetlights during Muharram days.
“We didn’t see Peer since he became the MLA, but this man (Abid) is very much available to listen to our problems,” Majeed said.
“We once went to Peer for help to repair the local graveyard. He noted down our request, but then the repair work never started,” he added. Many other voters said Peer “limited his activities to his workers”.
The feedback about Peer’s performance is entirely different in the areas that vote for him.
“He is always available to his people and has done a lot of developmental work in recent years. Our area looks different than what it was six years ago,” said a businessman, requesting anonymity, from Botashah Mohalla, where Peer lives.
Whoever wins, a low voter turnout is a given considering the pro-freedom sentiment visible in most parts of the constituency. A few months back, Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq addressed a youth convention at the sports ground that is not far away from Peer’s residence. Mirwaiz later named the stadium after his slain father Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq.
“Elections are still of no relevance to us. We boycotted yesterday, we are ready to boycott today and we will continue to boycott in the future as well,” Imtiyaz Ahmad of Vicharnag said.
The list of contestants in the fray may swell in the weeks ahead with BJP and Independents likely to enter the contest. And the likes of Dar’s son, who is contesting independently, could play the spoilsport for both NC and PDP by dividing the already small number of voters.