By Sheikh Qayoom
Jammu, March 25 (IANS) With both the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) choosing to stay away from the contest in the Jammu and Udhampur Lok Sabha seats, the balance appears to swing in favour of the Congress party in these constituencies.
Sikh community’s decision to support Raman Bhalla, the Congress candidate in Jammu, could cost Jugal Kishore Sharma, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, heavily.
Already, announcements are being made in Gurdwaras of Jammu city and other voting segments of Jammu Lok Sabha seat that the Sikh community has decided to support Raman Bhalla.
The NC decided against fielding any candidate for the two seats after working out a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.
The NC president, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, launched the joint poll campaign for Raman Bhalla and the other Congress candidate, Vikramaditya Singh, two days ago from Jammu city.
Surprisingly, the NC’s arch rival, the PDP has also decided against fielding candidates from Jammu and Udhampur to ‘strengthen the secular vote’ in the two constituencies.
While Jugal Kishore Sharma is seeking relection from Jammu, Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State in the PMO, is seeking likewise from Udhampur. What seemed a cakewalk for the BJP in the two seats a few days ago is now turning out to be a closely fought battle.
Raman Bhalla is a farmer minister and has, in the past, represented the Gandhi Nagar seat, which forms a segment of the Jammu Lok Sabha seat, in the state assembly.
The closing of ranks by the ‘secular forces’ and the decision of the Sikh community to support him has posed a serious challenge to the BJP’s Jugal Kishore Sharma.
And, queering the pitch for Jitendra Singh is the fact that Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha and a former J&K Chief Minister, belongs to Bhaderwah town of Doda district which is a segment of the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat.
Azad has strong influence in the Chenab Valley districts of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and Reasi, all segments of the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat.
Jitender Singh had defeated Azad in 2014.
Then, BJP rebel Choudhary Lal Singh has formed the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan and has decided to contest from Udhampur. He has pockets of influence in the Kathua district, again a segment of the Udhampur seat.
Whatever the number of votes polled by Choudhary Lal Singh, if he contests, would be the BJP’s direct loss. Lal Singh was a minister in the PDP-BJP coalition headed by Mehbooba Mufti till he was dropped following his controversial statements about the Kathua rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in 2018.
Thus, even after the NC and the PDP decided to stay away from Udhampur so that the vote bank of the Congress’ Vikramaditya Singh gets consolidated, the going is no longer going to be smooth for Jitender Singh.
Ironically, the dangling of the olive branch to the Congress in the two Lok Sabha seats by both the NC and the PDP is a zigsaw puzzle whose pieces will only fall in place after the polls end.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected]