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Business News/ Politics / News/  Kashmir news: PDP's Mehbooba Mufti faces high-stakes battle in Anantnag-Rajouri seat in Phase 6 of LS polls today

Kashmir news: PDP's Mehbooba Mufti faces high-stakes battle in Anantnag-Rajouri seat in Phase 6 of LS polls today

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: The Anantnag-Rajouri seat in Jammu and Kashmir is a battleground for a three-way contest, with high stakes for Mehbooba Mufti as the former PDP bastion faces a redrawn electoral boundary.

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Kashmir News: High-stakes battle for PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti in redrawn Anantnag-Rajouri seat in phase 6 polling (PTI)Premium
Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Kashmir News: High-stakes battle for PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti in redrawn Anantnag-Rajouri seat in phase 6 polling (PTI)

As the Srinagar and Baramulla constituencies make history with their voter turnout in the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections, the focus now shifts to the Anantnag-Rajouri parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir, a seat steeped in political significance and intrigue.

The Anantnag-Rajouri seat, which votes today  in the sixth and penultimate phase of the Lok Sabha elections, has gained even more significance in shaping the region's political landscape after its electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2022.

High-stakes battle for Mehbooba Mufti

The Anantnag-Rajouri seat is a battleground for a three-way contest in the first election after the abrogation of Article 370 and redrawing of its political map. 

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief, Mehbooba Mufti, is contesting against Mian Altaf of the National Conference (NC), and Zafar Iqbal Manhas of the Apni Party, making the outcome of this election highly unpredictable.

Follow Live Updates on Phase 6 Polling Here

For former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, it is a high-stakes battle. Why? Because the Anantnag seat used to be a PDP bastion before delimitation in 2022. Mufti, 65, won the seat in 2004 and 2014 before the scrapping of Article 370. Her father and former Union Home Minister, the Late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, won the seat in 1998. 

The NC won the seat in 2019 (Hasnain Masoodi) and 2009 (Mehboob Beg).

Also Read: Lok Sabha Election 2024: What does Srinagar’s record voter turnout tell us about J&K's Article 370 scrapping?

Also, the PDP was expecting support from NC, its INDIA bloc partner. But that didn’t happen. The Farooq Abdullah-led NC, instead, fielded its candidate against Mufti. The two parties have supported the Congress candidates in two seats in the Jammu region.

The altered demography

Until 2022, the constituency in South Kashmir – known earlier as Anantnag – comprised only the districts of the Valley. However, a redrawn Anantnag-Rajouri seat was carved out by combining the Anantnag region in the Valley and Rajouri and Poonch of the Jammu region, changing the seat's demography through delimitation.

The new seat has 18 assembly segments — 11 in the Kashmir region’s Shopian, Kulgam, and Anantnag districts and 7 in Jammu's Poonch and Rajouri districts across the Pir Panjal range.

Also Read: Kashmir News: BJP will contest on all 90 assembly seats of J&K, says Amit Shah in Srinagar

The area of the seat in Kashmir Valley is dominated by non-Scheduled Tribe (ST) Muslims, who are of Kashmiri ethnicity. The area in the Jammu region is dominated by the Gujjar and Bakerwal Muslim communities — categorised as ST and not of Kashmiri ethnicity. The Jammu region also has a significant population of the Pahari ethnic group, which consists of non-Gujjar Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Perhaps because of these demographic compulsions, the NC fielded Mian Altaf from the Anantnag-Rajouri seat. Altaf, 55, hails from Ganderbal in central Kashmir and comes from a family with political and spiritual influence on the tribal community across Jammu and Kashmir.

Altaf’s family has won nine assembly elections since 1967 and is closely associated with some influential tribal families in Rajouri, the region included in the seat after delimitation.

The BJP inroads

After altering the demography, the formation of the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency didn’t go well with the regional parties—the NC and the PDP. The two parties have represented the seat in the parliament between themselves since 2004. The concern was that the step, particularly including areas from Jammu, was to help the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) make political inroads in the Valley.

Also Read: Prashant Kishor lists 3 opportunities Congress-led opposition missed against BJP

According to political analysts, the BJP has recently tried to woo the ST population. In 2021, for example, the BJP-led government at the Centre implemented the Forest Rights Act, a long-standing demand of Gujjars and Bakerwals. In 2024, the Union government also included the Pahari ethnic group in the Scheduled Tribe list. The government also amended the reservation rules and set aside separate quotas for Paharis in jobs and education.

BJP fighting through ‘proxies’

The steps notwithstanding, the BJP, like in the case of Srinagar and Baramulla seats, has not fielded any candidate in the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency. Top party leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah, have said the BJP was not in a rush for ‘lotus to boom’ in the Valley.

However, Tarun Chugh, the BJP's J&K in-charge, who recently visited Rajouri-Poonch, emphasized that the BJP backs any party except NC, PDP, and Congress.

NC and PDP have called parties like the Apni party 'proxies' of the BJP. “The BJP is using such parties whose people got the money via Hawala for militancy. They can do anything to keep Mehbooba Mufti out (of Parliament)," Mufti told news agency ANI on May 22. 

The voters in Srinagar and Baramulla came out in record numbers in the earlier two phases of the elections. Will voters in Anantnag-Rajouri follow suit? Will they send Mehbooba Mufti to Parliament once again in 2024? The seven-phase Lok Sabha election results will be declared on June 4.

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Published: 22 May 2024, 12:12 PM IST
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