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Thursday, July 25, 2024

With Baramulla set to vote, sympathy wave for jailed leader make traditional parties jittery

Date:

 On a dull May afternoon, a group of women lined up in a Baramulla village recite wanwun (Kashmir folklore sung during functions) and shower confetti on Abrar Rashid, the son of jailed former lawmaker Abdul Rashid Sheikh aka Engineer Rashid.

The president of Awami Ittehad Party, Engineer Rashid, is contesting as an Independent from the Baramulla parliamentary constituency from Tihar jail. Baramulla Lok Sabha seat is going to polls on May 20.

A two-time lawmaker from the Langate constituency, Rashid booked under anti terror law has been in jail since 2019.

Pro Engineer slogans rent the air as the caravan of 23-year-old Abrar passes through the lanes and bylanes of the Baramulla villages during the poll campaign. Abrar and his brother Asrar have become household names as they seek votes for the jailed father.

This is just the trailer of the Baramulla campaigning.

The constituency is witnessing a high-stake battle between National Conference’s vice president Omar Abdullah, former separatist turned mainstream leader, and People’s Conference chairman Sajad Lone, Peoples Democratic Party’s Fayaz Mir and jailed Engineer Rashid.

Before the nomination, it was seen as a contest between Omar versus Sajad. But the late entry of Engineer Rashid has made the game interesting. With Engineer Rashid banking on sympathy, Omar is trying to cash in on BJP’s abrogation of Article 370 and projecting Sajad Lone as the saffron party’s B team.

During the poll campaign Lone has been terming Omar as a “tourist” for his Srinagar roots. The Peoples Conference has also been telling voters that it was Omar who was part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.

PC’s campaign in Baramulla is further bolstered by backing from the Apni Party and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Baig.

Baramulla’s Lok Sabha seat encompasses four districts: Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora, and Budgam. The inclusion of Budgam and Beerwah constituencies following the recent delimitation exercise has expanded the constituency’s reach, now covering 18 assembly segments with approximately 17.32 lakh voters.

Historically, Baramulla has witnessed higher voter turnout in the last three decades as compared to other seats. The previous four Lok Sabha polls saw turnouts of 35.5%, 41.8%, 39.1%, and 38.9% in 2004, 2009, 2014, and 2019, respectively, with the highest turnout recorded at 47.7% in 1996.

The National Conference has a longstanding dominance in Baramulla. Omar Abdullah, who was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, is making a high-stakes bid for the seat, underscoring the NC’s determination to retain its stronghold.

The BJP has not fielded any candidate in the three Lok Sabha seats of Kashmir, instead opting to support certain parties indirectly.

As Baramulla heads to the polls, with 22 candidates in the fray and 2,103 polling stations prepared to accommodate the voters, the election is poised to be a critical indicator of the political currents in Kashmir.

The heightened enthusiasm and strategic alliances are expected to drive a significant voter turnout, potentially surpassing previous records.

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