National Conference veteran Farooq Abdullah is facing political greenhorns in the prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, while this time it is not a cakewalk for BJP’s Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the PMO, in Udhampur of Jammu division.
Both are seeking re-election for the respective seats for which polling will be held on 18 April during the second of the 5-phase polling in Jammu and Kashmir.
Farooq Abdullah is aspiring to enter the Lok Sabha for the fourth time whereas Jitendra Singh, riding the “Modi wave”, had for the first time won the Udhampur seat in the last elections.
Farooq won the Srinagar seat in the by-election of 2017 that was held as the sitting MP of PDP Tariq Hamid Karra, who had defeated Farooq in 2014, resigned the seat due to differences with the Muftis on the issue of the party’s alliance with the BJP. 2014 was the election that Farooq lost for the first time.
The audience in Farooq’s well-attended election rallies has been responsive to his attacks, particularly on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “attempts” to tinker with the special status of J&K that is provided by the Articles 370 and 35A.
The Congress has not fielded its candidate against Farooq who is facing 11 opponents including PDP’s Aga Syed Mohsin, Irfan Raza Ansari (Peoples Conference) and Sheikh Khalid Jehangir (BJP).
The Peoples Conference (PC) of Sajad Lone, which is also being backed by BJP despite its own candidate in the field, has been countering Farooq on the Article 370 issue by claiming that Omar Abdullah was a minister in the BJP-led government at the centre although the BJP had abrogation of Article 370 in its manifesto in 1998.
However, NC has hit back by saying it did not bring the RSS and BJP to rule the state as was done by the PDP in whose ministry Sajad Lone was a minister from the BJP quota.
Lone, a former separatist with whom BJP general secretary Ram Madhav has reportedly been meeting frequently, is projecting himself as an alternative to the Abdullahs and Muftis.
PDP’s Aga Syed Mohsin had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate and secured 16,000 votes out of the 3.12 lakh votes polled.
BJP’s Khalid Jehangir had recently kicked up a controversy when his election advertisements appeared in green instead of the party’s saffron colour. In the sprawling Udhampur constituency, things have been made tough for Jitendra Singh by rebel Lal Singh, who has set up his own Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan (DSS) after parting ways with the BJP, and also by Vikramaditya Singh of the Congress, who is being supported by the NC and PDP by not fielding their candidates against him.
Jitendra Singh had, in the 2014 elections, defeated the Congress stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad by about 60,000 votes.
Lal Singh had won the Udhampur seat on Congress symbol twice in 2004 and 2009 but he joined the BJP when he was denied the ticket by Congress. He became a minister in the PDP-BJP government but was asked to resign when he sought CBI enquiry into the alleged rape-murder case of a minor girl in the Kathua district which was given a communal twist by certain political parties.