Fearing adverse consequences of low polling percentage in her strongholds in Anantnag, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has given a communal twist to her campaign by raking up the issue of land transfer for the Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008 that had triggered an agitation.
She has taken an aggressive stance to gain the sympathy of the hardliners as the Kulgam district of the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat is scheduled to go to polls on Monday in the second of the 3-phase polling for the seat that continues to be the hotbed of terrorism.
Mehbooba, who is the PDP’s candidate for the seat, had so far been crediting herself of having protected the special status of the state by breaking ties with the BJP but now she has started raking up the oblivious issue of the Amarnath Shrine.
In her election rallies on Saturday, she criticised Ghulam Nabi Azad, who, as the chief minister with the support of the PDP, had leased a piece of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board at its base camp in the Anantnag district. She accused Azad of having “undermined” Article 370 by allotting the land to the Board.
However, Mehbooba did not mention the fact that the Shrine Board was not an alien institution and was managing a Hindu shrine within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is headed by the Governor of the state.
She targeted the Modi government at the centre for threatening to abrogate Article 370 and also the Congress and National Conference (NC) for diluting the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Mehbooba, as well as the BJP leadership, was exploiting the Articles 370 and 35A in their respective election campaigns. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an election rally, said that the Article 370 has become a hurdle in the development of the state, Mehbooba retorted that if it was so then the “Government of India should snap ties with Jammu and Kashmir and leave the state alone”.
“If any tinkering is done with the special status, the state will erupt in conflagration and the relation of Jammu and Kashmir with India will cease to exist,” Mehbooba warned.
NC leader Farooq Abdullah, in his election campaign, has been accusing Mehbooba of having brought miseries for people of Kashmir by aligning with the BJP. He has asked people to come out in large numbers to cast their vote.
BJP general secretary, Ram Madhav, also addressed an election rally on Saturday and said that the regional parties were not in a position to do any good for the state. The BJP had joined hands with the PDP in 2015 in the hope of accelerating the development of the state but the hardliners did not let this happen and the coalition government fell, said Madhav.
The BJP rally was mired into a controversy after a J&K police vehicle was seen distributing food packets to the participants. A video of the election code lapse went viral and the vehicle was withdrawn by the police authorities.
Top separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has reiterated his call for poll-boycott in Kulgam district and has also asked for a shutdown.
Over 3.45 lakh electors will exercise their franchise in Kulgam district in the second leg of the three-phase schedule for Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency on 29 April. The district is spread over four assembly segments comprising Noorabad, Kulgam, Homshalibugh and Devsar.
The South Kashmir district has 345, 486 electors including 179, 607 male, 164, 604 females, 1262 service electors (1254 male and 08 female) and 13 transgender voters. For smooth polling, the ECI has set up 433 polling stations across the district.
Prominent among the 18 candidates in the fray are Hasnain Masoodi (NC), Sofi Yousuf (BJP), Ghulam Ahmad Mir (Congress) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP).
The Anantnag parliamentary constituency spreads over four districts, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama. Polling in the Anantnag district was held on 23 April and Kulgam district will go to polls on Monday. Polling in Pulwama and Shopian districts will be held on 6 May.