By Sheikh Qayoom
Baramulla, March 30 (IANS) This Lok Sabha constituency, spread over 15 assembly segments in three districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora, will see a triangular contest in the first phase of the 2019 general elections.
The voting segments of the constituency include the far-flung Gurez and Karnah assembly segments which remain closed due to heavy snowfall for nearly three winter months each year.
The constituency also includes big towns like Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Handwara and Bandipora.
The voting population is predominantly Muslim, with a small minority of Sikh voters concentrated in and around Baramulla town.
Kashmiri Pandit voters of the constituency migrated out of the Valley in the early 1990s. Some members of this community, however, still live at a few places in the constituency.
Although there are nine candidates in the fray, the main contest for Baramulla Lok Sabha seat is going to be between Muhammad Akbar Lone of the National Conference (NC), Raja Aijaz Ali of the Peoples Conference (PC) and Abdul Qayoom Wani of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The Congress has fielded Farooq Mir from Baramulla, but it would mainly be the firebrand Engineer Rashid who would provide the fireworks during the poll campaign in the constituency as an independent candidate.
He represented the Langate seat in the state assembly that was dissolved by state Governor Satya Pal Malik last November when President’s Rule was imposed in the state.
If the turnout at Engineer Rashid’s election meetings is an indication of his voter support, then he could ruffle a few feathers.
Former IAS officer Shah Faesal has decided that his party will not contest the Lok Sabha elections. He had earlier said he would stand as a candidate from this Lok Sabha constituency.
The National Conference’s Muhammad Akbar Lone has represented Sonawari in the assembly.
Lone recently stirred a controversy by justifying his earlier act of raising a ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogan. This statement was criticized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he launched the BJP poll campaign in Jammu on Thursday.
The seat was represented in 2014 by Muzafar Hussain Beg of the PDP. Beg has chosen not to seek re-election from Baramulla this time.
The entry of the PC candidate, Raja Aijaz Ali who belongs to the Uri border area and is himself a Pahari, has posed challenges for the NC.
Sajad Lone, the president of the PC has strong influence in Handwara and Kupwara segments of the constituency.
Thus, the PC candidate is likely to poll Shia Muslim votes, especially in the Pattan assembly segment that was represented by Imran Raza Ansari of the PDP in the last assembly.
Ansari has since joined the PC.
The PDP’s Abdul Qayoom Wani belongs to Tangmarg segment of Baramulla constituency. The PDP’s support base has definitely come down after the collapse of the PDP-BJP ruling coalition in the state in June last year.
But, writing the PDP off so far as Baramulla is concerned would be a mistake.
The party still has the potential of getting votes in many segments of the constituency.
For instance, the PDP’s Abdul Haq Khan, who represented the Lolab in the assembly, continues to be a crowd puller as he is believed to have retained his vote base in the constituency.
Support bases and pockets of influence notwithstanding, the fortunes of the contestants in Baramulla will depend on the voter turnout on the polling day.
Voting percentages have been very low in urban areas of the constituency ever since the separatist violence started in the Valley.
In border areas like Uri, Gurez and Karnah voters have been coming out in good numbers to exercise franchise during the last 32 years.
The fortunes of the winners would, therefore, mostly depend on the number of votes they poll in these border segments.
Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency goes to the polls in the first phase of the 5-phase Parliamentary elections in J&K on April 11. The vote count will be on May 23.
There is a total of 13,12,148 voters and 1,749 polling stations.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected] )