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Kashmir: ECI announces polls dates for Srinagar and Anantnag; Cong-NC alliance to counter PDP

The Election Commission of India (ECI) may have announced poll dates for the two parliamentary seats of Srinagar and Anantnag on Friday, but the political parties had started the preparations months before, after the pro-freedom protests subsided and the situation in Kashmir started to normalise. Now, with the dates being announced, the Congress is rooting for an alliance with National Conference Party to counter the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming parliamentary polls on two seats of Srinagar and Anantnag in April.

The political parties had started organising conventions and public meetings well ahead of the poll dates which were announced on Friday. Chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, had been trying to reach out to the people; she recently announced compensation for those who died in the violence that erupted after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant commander, Burhan Muzafar Wani.

The government has admitted that about 75 people have died in seven months beginning 8 July 2016, when Wani was killed in an encounter in the South Kashmir area of Anantnag. The election on the Anantang seat was due after chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti resigned and got elected as an MLA from Ananatnag. The Srinagar seat has become necessary after former PDP MP, Tariq Hammed Karra, resigned and has now joined the Congress. Karra resigned when the protests were peaking; he had allege that the ruling PDP-BJP alliance has failed to check the excesses committed by government forces on the people during the pro-freedom protests.

The polls will be held on 9 and 12 April for the Srinagar and Anantang seat respectively. The counting will be held on 15 April.

 Kashmir: ECI announces polls dates for Srinagar and Anantnag; Cong-NC alliance to counter PDP

File image of Mehbooba Mufti. AFP.

ECI's poll date announcement have made political parties admit that the fresh killings in Kashmir could only prove to be a setback.  “As a national political party we are gearing up for the polls, but also see in these dates a ploy by the ruling PDP to ensure lesser turn out in the parliamentary polls. PDP is fearing defeat that is the reason that the polls couldn’t be held in time and state has been seeking that they should be postponed,’’ said state Congress president, GA Mir.

The state government had sought from the ECI that the Panchayat polls, which were due since June last year, should be held ahead of the Assembly polls. But since the ECI didn’t heed to the request, all major political parties had sounded the poll bugle ahead of the dates. Nevertheless, the office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), which is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring the elections, was ready for both the Assembly as well as Panchayat polls. The government has recently completed the delimitation of Panchayats and at least 35,000 Panch constituencies will go to polls after the by-elections for the Srinagar and Anantang seat. However, Mir said that the pressing issue before the ruling BJP government at the Centre was to hold the by-polls in Kashmir ahead of the polls for the office of President. “This shows the nervousness of the BJP government at Centre. They want to fill up all the position of MLAs and MPs ahead of the elections for the office of President. Otherwise the ruling PDP never wanted the polls because they sensed a defeat. The elections for Anantnag seat are due for the last one year while as for the Srinagar seat they are due for last 6 months,’’ he said.

While the leaders of political parties have started lobbying to get a mandate on the Srinagar and Anantnag seats, the NC and Congress are likely to go for a pre-poll alliance against the PDP. Mir said that there was a “public demand’’ that the Congress and NC should field joint candidates for the parliamentary seats. “The opposition vote won’t get divided that way,’’ he said.

From the NC, former chief minister and NC president, Farooq Abdullah, is likely to contest the Srinagar seat. For the Anantang seat, the names of Congress president, Mir, and former minister, Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed, are being considered. Mir has a stronghold in South Kashmir. He had lost the last assembly polls by a very thin margin from the Dooru constituency. PDP's Tasaduq Mufti (Mehbooba Mufti's brother), her uncle, Sartaj Madni, and her cousin, Mufti Sajad, are being considered for the Anantang seat. The party is looking at fielding former Minister and ex-MLA from Ganderbal, Qazi Mohammad Afzal, or son of former PDP Minister, Nazir Khan from the Srinagar seat.

NC General Secretary, Ali Mohammad Sagar, said that the party will hold a meeting within few days to decide on the names of candidates and the poll strategy that would be adopted. Both the NC and Congress would focus their campaign on the use of harsh measures against people to tackle the unrest in Kashmir. Parties have been lashing out at the PDP-BJP alliance for the “excessive use of force’’ against the people. But Mir admitted that the campaigning during the polls may become difficult due to the killings that continue to take place in Kashmir. “The situation has not improved much,’’ he said.

The Hurriyat Conference has already asked people to boycott the polls and in fact, the police said in a statement on Friday that the two militants who were killed in South Kashmir were asking people to desist from elections. “Two LeT militants were killed in an encounter with police and security forces in Padgampora area of Awantipora. These militants were involved in many incidents of violence including killing of security force police personnel and political activists, grenade attacks on security forces, police installations in South Kashmir. They were also involved in threatening general masses to refrain from forthcoming elections,” the police said.

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Updated Date: Mar 10, 2017 09:42:08 IST