Four-way contest in Banihal

BANIHAL: The fate of six candidates will be in the hands of about 75,000 voters as this mountainous assembly segment goes to polls in what is being seen as a four-way contest between sitting MLA and Congress candidate Waqar Rasool Wani, PDP’s Bashir Ahmad Roonyal, a former bureaucrat, BJP’s Showkat Javed Daing and Sajad Shaheen of National Conference.
Two other candidates trying their luck are from Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Jammu Kashmir National Pathers Party.
There are no independent contestants in fray. There were seven in 2008 polls. In 1987, independent candidate Mohammad Farooq Mir had won the seat. In 2002 assembly polls, another independent candidate, Molvi Abdul Rashid, emerged victorious.
In 2008, in which a total 13 contestants were in fray, Wani won the seat by a margin of 3,000 votes. Daing, then an independent candidate and now a BJP nominee, was the runner up.
The four-way contest makes it difficult to guess whether the constituency will follow the 24-year-old tradition of electing the winning candidate.
Congress is banking on Wani’s record of development works. Banihal vice-president of Youth Congress Shakir Hussain said that the people are mature enough to judge the candidate by his performance.
“Till 2008 the constituency was a neglected area. Today, 90 percent of areas in the constituency have been provided electricity connections. Healthcare facilities are available even in the remotest areas of the segment. Eleven villages were granted backward status due to Waqar sahab’s efforts,” he said.
However, people living in the upper belts of the segment feel neglected.
“Wani after being voted to assembly last time failed to reach out to the poor in remote areas. He remained available for the selected few only. People in many areas crave basic amenities,” said Riyaz Ahmad who had come to attend BJP’s rally.
Local BJP leader and state general secretary for BJP’s Muslim Morcha, Mohammad Saleem Bhat, believes that the “NC and Congress are a closed chapter”.
“You can write it down that it will be direct contest between PDP and BJP here,” he said.
“Many areas like Mahu , Mangat, Paristan, Seena Pati, Huchak , Arm Dakha continue to live like they are in stone age. They want change. Though we are a part of Jammu, culturally we are Kashmiris. People here know well who hanged Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat sahab,” he added.
Daing, a young post-graduate and Urdu poet, locals say, enjoys support in Neel belt, which has an electorate of more than 10,000.
“It was perhaps on the basis of his previous performance that BJP nominating him this time. BJP candidate in 2008 elections had secured around 2,500 votes and with his support he can give a tough fight to his rivals,” said a local youth, Mohammad Saleem.
The supporters of PDP and NC too are confident of the victory of their candidates.
“It is because of Mufti sahab’s honesty that party made a clean sweep in parliamentary polls. The people you saw here in the BJP rally were all hired. You should not analyse things from gatherings. Like in the rest of the state there is a PDP wave here as well,” said Mohammad Iqbal, a PDP supporter.
However a social activist, keeping close watch on the political developments, wishing not to be named, said that the poll results in the constituency will be surprising this time around.
“If PDP and BJP are enjoying support in upper belts, NC candidate has a strong support base in the town. Anti-incumbency against sitting MLA in many areas may dent his vote bank but he too has a strong support base in many pockets. It will be an interesting and tough contest,” he said.