Final phase today; stakes high for BJP, Congress

Srinagar: Crucial for the electoral fortunes of Congress and BJP, the fifth and final leg of Assembly polls will be held Saturday in which several high-profile candidates will try their luck in 20 seats spread over three districts of Jammu.
There are expectations of a high voter turnout in Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts in Jammu region, where  high-pitched campaigning continued till last evening.
As many as 213 candidates, including Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Ministers Sham Lal Sharma, Raman Bhalla, Manohar Lal Sharma, Ajay Sadhotra, former MP and ministers Lal Singh, Talib Hussain (both BJP) and Jitendra Babu Singh and former Deputy Speaker Hyder Malik will be battling it out in this phase. As many as 18,28,904 eligible voters, comprising 9,59,011 men and 8,69,891 women, are expected to exercise their franchise at 2,366 polling stations set up across the three border districts.
BJP has high stakes in this phase as of the 20 seats going to polls, it had got the most (10) seats in the 2008 Assembly elections followed by Congress five, NC two, PDP one and Independents two.
The saffron party fired up its campaigning with all top guns led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani, Uma Bharati, J P Nadda, Jitendra Singh and star campaigners Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, and Navjot Singh Sidhu wooing voters.
Modi addressed four rallies in Rajouri, Jammu, Billawar and Kathua Assembly segments and appealed to the people to give BJP a majority to develop the state and oust “dynastic” rule of NC, PDP and Congress.
Senior leaders of all parties campaigned for their candidates. Among the prominent campaigners were Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, his predecessors Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad and PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti.
Deputy Chief Minister and Congress candidate Tara Chand, who won the Chhamb seat in Jammu in 1996, 2002 and 2008 is fighting to retain the seat this time again.
Besides, Congress candidate from Akhnoor and Minister Sham Lal Sharma is looking at scoring a hat-trick.
Another Congress Minister Raman Bhalla is also looking at repeating his victory of 2002 and 2008 in Gandhi Nagar seat.
Congress Minister Manohar Lal Sharma is engaged in a direct fight with BJP at Billawar in Kathua district.
While PDP has fielded six sitting MLAs including Wani, it has nominated fresh faces in the three constituencies.
Sitting minister of National Conference Ajay Sadhotra will take on BJP in Marh Assembly segment.
Besides, two-time MP and former minister Lal Singh, who jumped ships from Congress to BJP, is contesting from Basholi seat. Similarly, former NC MP Talib Hussain is trying his luck on a BJP ticket from Rajouri segment.
NC candidate for Nagrota Devender Singh Rana, who is close to Omar Abdullah, will face his maiden contest.
The election official said in Bani Assembly constituency 11 candidates are in the fray, in Basohli 12, Kathua 15, Billawar 8, Hiranagar 8, Nagrota 11, Gandhi Nagar 11, Jammu East 9, Jammu West 15, Bishnah 10, R S Pura 11, Suchetgarh 12, Marh 9, Raipur Domana 11, Akhnoor 8, Chhamb 10, Nowshera 11, Darhal 11, Rajouri 13, Kalakote 7.
While BJP led by Modi raised the issue of corruption, dynastic politics and development, it remained silent on the controversial issues of abrogation of Article 370. The party released a vision document but did not release any manifesto.
Ruling National Conference, which talked about development and hit out at BJP over divisive politics, said it would oppose any attempt to “tamper” with Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants special status to the state.
Congress promised equitable development for the three regions of the state and said it will constitute two fully empowered regional councils. It promised to set up separate development councils under the umbrella of regional councils, one for Chenab Valley and another for Peer Panchal Valley.
PDP sought votes for equal development of all the three regions and did not rake up the ‘Self Rule’ issue during campaigning in Jammu.  (with PTI inputs)

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